Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Whitbourn, John

(1958-    ) UK writer whose first novel, A Dangerous Energy (1992), won the 1991 First Fantasy Novel Competition jointly organized by BBC Radio 4's Bookshelf and the publishers Gollancz. The novel is set in an Alternate-World UK, ingeniously outlined through a history examination paper, where Royalists won the Civil War and the stern guardianship of the Catholic Church has – as in Keith Roberts's Pavane (1968) – retarded technology; this Church controls and polices Magic. The selfish, amoral Antihero Oakley is magically initiated by Elves, enters the Church, and proves brutally effective in "crusades" against England's heretical Protestant "Levellers". He advances himself by misusing Demons, source of all major magical power; these and their conjuration exude an effective stench of Wrongness, as in James Blish's Black Easter (1968). Oakley's climactic experiment in demonological research, though horrifying and hugely destructive, leads him to a futile dead end. He dies quietly in bed, to learn (like C S Lewis's damned) that his lifetime's efforts have achieved only his utter severance from God. Popes and Phantoms (1993) is a blackly witty Picaresque whose protagonist Admiral Slovo plays games with already skewed Renaissance history as agent of Secret Masters, encountering Revenants, Borgias, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Henry VII, Martin Luther, Satan, etc. To Build Jerusalem (1995) returns to the England of A Dangerous Energy, where a new demon from beyond the hierarchy explored by Oakley (who briefly appears) capriciously aids the Levellers and has abducted the King and his court to a demonic Otherworld. This is investigated by an elite Vatican emissary and assassin who, reversing the spiritual progress of Oakley and Slovo, is already dehumanized at the outset but during the action – skirmishes, conjurations, Portal-crossings and battle against Monsters – moves some way towards ordinary empathy. JW writes well, with dry wit. [DRL]

other works: The Binscombe Tales, being Binscombe Tales (coll 1989 chap) and Rollover Night (coll 1990 chap), A Binscombe Tale for Christmas (1994 chap) and A Binscombe Tale for Summer (1996 chap), Ghost Stories/Supernatural Fictions; Popes & Phantoms (coll 1992 chap), two episodes from the novel.

John Whitbourn


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.