Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Warner, Sylvia Townsend

(1893-1978) UK writer who began her literary career in 1922 as an editor of scholarly series of books of Tudor Church Music. Her first novel, Lolly Willowes, or The Loving Huntsman (1926), is a subtly told Supernatural Fiction whose eponymous protagonist, stifled by her spinsterly life, leaves London for the country, where she continues to feel the presence of an enticing otherness, to which she gives her allegiance (> Pacts with the Devil). She then meets the Devil, who is a gamekeeper or "Loving Huntsman", and affirms her relationship to him and her escape from a male-dominated world in identifiably feminist terms (> Gender). Next she hits the road, disappearing from our ken.

The Cat's-Cradle Book (coll 1940 US) assembles a series of Revisionist stories, some based directly on traditional Fairytales and all contained within a Frame Story which introduces them as part of a huge range of tales told by Cats to children, human and feline. The stories are recounted with succinct grace; most are singularly ruthless. "The Castle of Carabas" treats the descendants of the miller's son who betrayed Puss-In-Boots as a succession of Knights of the Doleful Countenance who swoon at the sight of a cat, so great is their guilt and attendant Amnesia, for they know not the reason for their Bondage, and refuse to learn. Kingdoms of Elfin (coll of linked stories 1977) sets 17 tales in a variety of matriarchal kingdoms inhabited by Fairies generally ignorant of the human world, and normally unperceivable by humans, though STW posits a wide range of relationships between her Secondary Worlds and the Earth of human history. Some of the kingdoms seem to be Polders, some Crosshatches, some Wainscots. When fairies do intersect with humans, they sometimes re-enact (> Twice-Told) various of the crueller fairytales, as in "Foxcastle" and "The One and the Other", where humans are taken from normal life. The overall effect is of an axiom-sharp, dance-like assemblage of moral lessons, couched with an almost impersonal joy. Selected Stories of Sylvia Townsend Warner (coll 1988) contains further stories of interest. STW's life of T H WhiteT.H. White: A Biography (1967) – is exemplary. [JC]

Sylvia Townsend Warner


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.