Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Swanwick, Michael

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(1950-    ) US writer, most of whose work is sf, though some of his stories are fantasy, including "The Dragon Line" (1989 Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine), in which Merlin, having survived into the modern world, fails in his attempt to save us from terminal pollution. The Vampire featured in In the Drift (fixup 1985) is in fact a mutant whose digestive tract is deficient.

MS's only novel of genuine fantasy interest is The Iron Dragon's Daughter (1993 UK), a savage Revisionist Fantasy which can be understood as an exposé of Faerie (or, more precisely, of readers' wish-fulfilment images of free-lunch Otherworlds) as well as a remarkably ruthless deconstruction of the Rite-of-Passage structure of so many contemporary fantasy tales whose young female protagonists gain empowerment through Menarche. Passing disastrously from one Reality to another, the Changeling anti-heroine undergoes four separate rites of passage, four versions of the central fantasy Story whose protagonists escape Bondage through self-Recognition, but she never truly comes to know herself, although her Shadow, a kind of halfling, knows her well enough. The first section is set in a Technofantasy nightmare venue where war Dragons are manufactured at great human cost, and which she escapes only through the loss of a Companion's life. In the second – set in a cod Contemporary-Fantasy quasi-urban USA where one may experience Time in Faerie at the very heart of the shopping mall – she is complicit in the ritual death by fire of the high-school "year Queen" (see Golden Bough). In the third – set in a desolate City dominated by a university which gives degrees in Alchemy – she learns the true loss involved in using Sex to gain control over Magic. And in the fourth she has an ambiguous confrontation with the Goddess who may rule the Universe through an Edifice which (conventionally) is a model of the Universe. She ends the book as a mortal woman in a mortal world: her reward is to be human.

There are few great anti-fantasies in the literature: The Iron Dragon's Daughter, more thoroughly perhaps than any predecessor, is one. It is a book which counts the costs of fantasy. [JC]

Michael Jenkins Swanwick


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.