Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Golden Age

An idyllic past age from which the present represents a sad fall or Thinning. The term's first recorded use is in the ancient Greek Hesiod's Works and Days (8th century BC) (see also Greek and Latin Classics); the Bible's garden of Eden represents another lost GA. The GA is conceptually distinct from magic Otherworlds, but the two are often mixed in fantasy's legendary pasts. Thus the popularity of Arthurian romance (see Arthur) in the female-ruled courts of Eleanor of Acquitaine and Marie de Champagne has been attributed – e.g. in Jean Markale's Women of the Celts (1975) – to nostalgia for the pivotal roles played in Celtic legend by magical "ladies of the foundation" and "sovereignty" givers: Morgan Le Fay, Vivian, or the Lady of the Lake. The success of modern works like Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon (1983) suggests the attractiveness, for female writers and readers, of rewriting legendary histories into an Alternate-World past GA where women's roles are more prominent (see also Goddess). Indeed, Edmund Spenser's verse epic The Faerie Queen (1590-1596) shows a "Gloriana" flatteringly based on Elizabeth Tudor, reigning in a nostalgic quasi-Arthurian GA. Temporal Cycles may promise a new GA – as in Percy Bysshe Shelley's Hellas (1822), where "The golden years return ..." – but one which will again give way to iron and leaden years. [JH/DRL]

see also: Arcadia; Dreamtime; Et in Arcadia Ego.

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.