Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Wings enable flight, and in fantasy are usually symbols of freedom, although a strong cautionary note was introduced into the dream of human flight by the story of Icarus. Wings come in three distinct versions whose symbolism is markedly different. Feathered wings like those of Birds confer a certain nobility upon chimeras thus endowed, especially Angels (and their analogues) and winged horses. Batlike and pterosaurian wings are among the standard accoutrements of Demons and the more ominous kinds of Vampires. Insectile wings are almost exclusively restricted to the effete and calculatedly quaint kind of Fairies beloved of Victorian artists, signifying frailty. The symbolic roles of various chimeras, therefore, depend to some extent on what kind of wings they have (> Animals Unknown to Science), although the partial redemption of Dragons from their monstrous role by modern writers has helped change the implication of pterosaurian wings.

The fate of Icarus is analysed in Story for Icarus (1958) by Ernst Schnabel. Sentimental fantasies about bird-winged humans who find solace in elevation include Going Home (1921) by Barry Pain, An Alien from Heaven (1929) by Nathalia Crane and "He That Hath Wings" (1938) by Edmond Hamilton (1904-1977). The winged women in Angel Island (1914) by Inez Haynes Gillmore (1873-1970) and the protagonist of Nancy Springer's Metal Angel (1994), on the other hand, have their wings clipped in order to humble them. The wings grown by the protagonist of Mervyn Peake's Mr Pye (1953) are an ironically mixed blessing. A notable Travellers' Tale featuring winged humans is The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins (1751) by Robert S Paltock (1697-1767). Bat-winged humans are much rarer, although one is featured in "The Garden of Fear" (1934) by Robert E Howard, and they occasionally crop up in ironic sf stories like Childhood's End (1953) by Arthur C Clarke. Humanoid aliens with insectile wings are ironically featured in "Magnanthropus" (1961) and its sequel by Manly Banister (1914-1986). [BS]

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.