Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Underliers

In fantasy, many stories are built upon tales Twice-Told (>>> Revisionist Fantasy) and upon characters who have long existed in the Cauldron of Story. It is thus tempting to suggest that modern fantasy can be understood in terms of its working-out of primal Archetypes (>>> Icons) – although this is by no means accepted by all students of the field, and anyway such an interpretation makes the demand on many individual stories than may have been intended by their writers. Where a modern work makes literary play with the cauldron of story, the term "underlier" is useful.

The underlier Gods of the Greek and Roman pantheon (including in particular Apollo, Dionysus, the Trickster god Hermes, and Zeus; >>> Greek and Latin Classics) frequently shape our perceptions of contemporary figures; and fantasy writers, when they evoke various goddesses (like Aphrodite or Isis), very frequently intend readers to sense, within these figures, some hint of the Goddess. Gods out of other pantheons are frequently used in Celtic Fantasy and Nordic Fantasy as underliers. The Heroes of MythologyGilgamesh, Odysseus, etc. – also serve. Characters of out Legend and Folklore and Fairytale figure again and again: Arthur, Cinderella, the Fairy Queen, Faust, the Flying Dutchman, the Frog Prince, Oberon, Robin Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, Santa Claus, Scheherazade, Sinbad, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Tam Lin, the Wandering Jew . . . the list is both loose and nearly endless.

Underlier figures who first came into existence through the works of individual authors are just as likely to be found, particularly in Taproot Texts. The Virgil who appears in Dante's Divine Comedy (written circa 1320) is one, as are various characters created by William Shakespeare – like Ariel, Caliban, Falstaff, Hamlet and Prospero – the Frankenstein monster of Mary Shelley and many of the characters created by J R R Tolkien. Again the list is enormous.

Types of character – from the scapegoat to the Ugly Duckling, from the types who animate the Commedia dell'Arte to the Companion in Heroic Fantasy, from unicorn to Elf – also serve to underlie fantasy tales. [JC]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.