Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Frame Story

A story which contains another story or series of stories. FSs are usually constructed to both precede and follow the story or stories they frame, which may or may not have been written by the author responsible for the frame – they may be traditional or anonymous works assembled by the frame author, or they may make up an anthology which the frame author has edited. In Story Cycles like Boccaccio's Decameron (circa 1350), Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (circa 1380-1400), the Arabian Nights (see Arabian Fantasy) or in the Club-Story convention, it is common for FS passages also to appear between individual tales. Apuleius, Boccaccio and Chaucer used the FS both as a convenient forum for the assembly of tales and as a focusing device through which the stories could be made to seem relevant to a particular occasion or to some overarching theme or moral thesis – a declaration of relevance that seemed only natural, as it was only in the 19th century that short stories began to be perceived as autonomous works of art.

Authors like Count Potocki, Ludwig Tieck, E T A Hoffmann, Charles Dickens (in Master Humphrey's Clock [coll 1841-1842]) and Robert Louis Stevenson also used FSs in order to shape the perceptions of readers; and traditional material presented in such assemblies – Potocki's Manuscript Found at Saragosse (1804-1815), for instance – will have been transformed through the new perspective. In recent decades this process of transformation has become axiomatic. FSs are now normally used as devices to ironize or distance the material encompassed. Arabesques: More Tales of the Arabian Nights (anth 1988) ed Susan Shwartz, like most anthologies based on Arabian Fantasy, emphasizes the Tall-Tale comicality of material which cannot be taken neat. Many of Isak Dinesen's stories, and all the stories Sylvia Townsend Warner assembled as The Cat's Cradle Book (coll 1940 US), are irradiated with ironic indecisions and narrative slow curves.

FSs can also be used as narrative portals into a larger tale which, once commenced, carries the main weight of meaning. Planetary Romances, from the time of Edgar Rice Burroughs on, typically frame the adventures of their heroes through an introductory frame which soon becomes irrelevant. A more sophisticated author, like E R Eddison in The Worm Ouroboros (1922), uses an FS to launch his tale, and never bothers to return to it at all. [JC]

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.