Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Fantasy's fierce morality of Balance and Contracts insists that there are prices which must be paid. Gods and other higher beings may not want the offered goods or beasts, but require the sacrifice if only as a token of earnestness: Odin sacrificed an eye for wisdom, and the Bible's Leviticus describes in great detail the various "burnt offerings" which will please the Lord. Animal sacrifices are routine in Voodoo, minor Black Magic and "primitive" Religions. Terry Pratchett has a rare comic example in Mort (1987), whose offering is chosen for its visibility to the myopic High Priest – a sacrificial elephant. Manuel in James Branch Cabell's Figures of Earth (1921) sacrifices his youthfulness to regain the woman whose life he had earlier spent to save his own. Further examples abound, but the greatest sacrificial drama lies in outright Human Sacrifice.

In a different sense, it is a common underlying theme of fantasy that something more abstract – Love, dignity, etc. – must be sacrificed for the fulfilment of the Quest, or for the general good of the Land, or for some other reason. The notion is that nothing of import can be attained without the cost of pain or loss. [DRL]

see also: Initiation; Rite of Passage.

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.