Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Vansittart, Peter

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(1920-2008) UK writer whose novels in various genres, beginning with the sf dystopia I Am the World: A Romance (1942), have over the decades become an important set of narrative visions of the interrelations between the data of history and the Myths that generate Story. Most of his best novels are historical fictions, and his fantasies, too, are interwoven with the history of Europe. The Story Teller (1968) is typical: its protagonist has lived for over 500 years, and the phases of his life correspond to the phases of European history he witnesses and helps to shape, as well as to the movement of the Seasons. Two further novels – The Death of Robin Hood (1981) and Parsifal (1988) – similarly examine history and myth through iconic figures whose Immortality is a metaphor of the immortality of Story. The recurring Robin Hood figure in the former, Mythago-like, recurs as a living image in the imaginations of men and women in various eras; and the protagonist of the latter is both an actor in the Matter of Britain and the victim of Richard Wagner's 19th-century Transformation of the hero into a creature fit for contemporary Germany. The earlier Lancelot (1978) likewise ironizes the Arthurian cycle, but without the same savagery. Late novels, like A Safe Conduct (1995), constantly press at the edge of the supernatural; the 15th-century figures in this tale of the Children's Crusade believe in Magic, and act their beliefs out: it is constantly moot whether their behaviour is delusory.

Two collections of Twice-Told tales – The Dark Tower: Tales from the Past (coll 1965) and The Shadow Land: More Stories from the Past (coll 1967) – convey more directly, for YA readers, the same sense that Story and history are intimately wed. In his denseness of language, and in the dangerousness of his narrative visions, PV can be understood as a significant precursor of mythopoeic fantasy writers like Paul Hazel and Robert Holdstock. [JC]

Peter Vansittart


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.