Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Wilder, Thornton

(1897-1975) US novelist and playwright best-known for work outside fantasy; he three times won the Pulitzer Prize. However, TW did consistently utilize devices and themes (historical drama, Ghosts, the persistence of paganism in the modern world, the Ocean of Story) more common to fantastic literature than to the fiction of literary Modernism, whose critics generally embraced his work. Although the non-naturalistic elements of his plays – including the most famous, Our Town (1938) – seem to possess some affinity with the "theatre within the theatre" of Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936), the decided homeliness of TW's supernatural figures (they include the voices of the dead, Angels and biblical figures) has more in common with the 19th-century US short story than with European Modernism. Although the debt of The Skin of Our Teeth (1942) to James Joyce's Finnegans Wake (1939) has been remarked, TW's use of fabulism in theatre preceded his acquaintance with that book (on which he was an authority), as his one-act play "Pullman Hiawatha" (1931) shows. TW's fictions show an abiding interest in the interpenetration of the antique and the modern, from his first novel, The Cabala (1926), which viewed contemporary Rome in pagan terms, to his last, Theophilus North (1973), whose protagonist likens 1920s Newport, RI, to the seven cities of Troy. Despite his familiarity (and sympathy) with the impulses of European Modernism, TW's congeniality toward fantasy springs from older sources. [GF]

other works (selective): The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927); The Woman of Andros (1930); Heaven's My Destination (1935); The Ides of March (1948); The Eighth Day (1967).

Plays: The Angel that Troubled the Waters (coll 1928); The Long Christmas Dinner (coll 1931); The Merchant of Yonkers (1938; rev vt The Matchmaker 1954 UK).

Thornton Niven Wilder


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.