Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

The notion that the undying Soul may be serially reincarnated is common to many myth-systems, but is particularly associated with Hinduism, which adds an element of moral judgement in asserting that the pattern of such reincarnations is determined by karma. Such ideas were enthusiastically taken up by writers of fantasies based in Spiritualism and Theosophy, which often take the form of "karmic romances" – whose troubled characters are deemed to be atoning for sins committed in former lives. Many karmic romances insist that true Love has the power to transcend Time; the subgenre thus overlaps with the Timeslip romance. The most popular sources of reincarnated souls are Atlantis and ancient Egypt.

Writers particularly devoted to the production of karmic romances include H Rider Haggard – whose series begun with She (1887) might be reckoned the classic of the subgenre – Edwin Lester Arnold, Mrs Campbell Praed, Dion Fortune, Shaw Desmond (1877-1960) and Joan Grant. Notable further examples include Ziska (1897) by Marie Corelli, Cecilia (1902) by F Marion Crawford, A Son of Perdition (1912) by Fergus Hume, The Bridge of Time (1919) by William Henry Warner, Avernus (1924) by Mary Bligh Bond (1895-?   ), When They Came Back (1938) by Roy Devereux (real name Margaret R Pember-Devereux), I Live Again (1942) by Warwick Deeping (1877-1950), The Book of Ptath (1943; 1947) by A E van Vogt and Alas, That Great City (1948) by Francis Ashton (1904-1994). More refined karmic romances, less obsessed with erotic matters, include The Star Rover (1915) by Jack London, Julius Levallon (1916) by Algernon Blackwood, The Man Who Was Born Again (1921) by Paul Busson (1873-1924), The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1974) by Max Ehrlich (1909-1983) and Audrey Rose (1976) by Frank De Felitta (see also Audrey Rose [1977]).

Perhaps surprisingly, stories in which humans are reincarnated as animals do not usually rationalize the move in terms of karmic penalty; notable examples include "The Black Spaniel" (1905) by Robert Hichens, "The Professor's Mare" (1913) by L P Jacks, "Don Juan in the Arena" (1934) by Christina Stead (1902-1983) and Fluke (1977) by James Herbert. Don Marquis's archy and mehitabel (coll 1927) stars as a poet reincarnated as a cockroach – the comic penalty for writing free verse; Lord Dunsany's My Talks with Dean Spanley (1936) plays with animal-to-human reincarnation, featuring a Dean who dimly remembers being a spaniel. Reincarnation on other worlds was a particular fascination of the French astronomer Camille Flammarion (1842-1925); it is also featured in Transmigration (1874) by Mortimer Collins (1827-1876). Contes philosophiques considering various aspects of the notion include "Tulsah" (1896) by M P Shiel, "The Choice: An Allegory of Blood and Tears" (1929) by Sydney Fowler Wright (1874-1965) and "The Vitanuls" (1967) by John Brunner. [BS]

see also: Resurrection.


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.