12/03/2014 Cynical Mysticism: The Elision of Folklore with the Occult in Late-Victorian Fantasy

Dr John Patrick Pazdziora
(St Andrews)

This paper questions the assumed continuum in fantasy literature. Too often, the fantasy literature of the mid-Victorian period is presumed to form an unbroken continuum with that of the 1930s and 40s. Because, for instance, C. S. Lewis employed fantasy to espouse his particular brand of Christianity, it is often assumed that the mystical fairy tales of George MacDonald must function in the same way. But this overlooks significant changes in literary conceptions of folk and fairy lore in the 1890s. This paper will begin to reinstate the spiritualist folkoristics of the fin de siècle between George MacDonald and his twentieth century admirers such as Lewis and G. K. Chesterton. In particular, the use of fairy lore and folktale by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, notably in the works of A. E. Waite and W. B. Yeats, will be presented as a crucial influence on later fantasy and fairy tale writers. The ‘fine bogey tales’ of MacDonald appear to have more in common with Walter Scott’s ballads than with the occult philosophizing of the Cottingley Fairies.

First published: 17 October 2014