| Bud absorbed more than he wanted to know about the Parsis, their... religion, their tendency to wander around, even their... cuisine, which looked weird but made his mouth water anyway.
- Neal Stephenson
The Diamond Age (1995)
This annotated bibliography list, a subset derived from the Adherents.com Religion in Literature database, is intended as a resource for literary research. It lists mainstream science fiction and fantasy novels, short stories and movies (speculative fiction) which contain references to Zoroastrianism. These include references to Parsis and to Zarathustra/Zoroaster. This list is not comprehensive, but it does list all Hugo- and Nebula-winning novels with Zoroastrian references.
This list does not include every reference to Zoroastrianism within each work. Each novel or story is listed only once, with a brief explanation or sample quote. Most works include only one reference, which is given. If a work contains multiple references, this is noted in the listing.
Zoroastrianism is mentioned rarely within science fiction, and when it is mentioned, it is usually only in passing. The Adherents.com sf/f index has only three works which have extensive references to Zoroastrians (titles in bold).
The obvious reason why Zoroastrianism is mentioned so infrequently is that are now so few Zoroastrians in the world. There are no known Zoroastrian science fiction writers. Most English-language science fiction writers have probably not had the opportunity to meet any Zoroastrians.
Also, most science fiction stories take place in the future. Science fiction writers, aware of the precarious and possibly declining numbers of the Zoroastrian population, may prefer to avoid predicting the continued existence or significance of a such a group. (Of course, many science fiction stories and novels have predicted the disappearance of even such large religions as Christianity and Islam, so Zoroastrians need not feel overly slighted.)
Current number of novels and stories in list: 42.
|Sample Quote and/or Description|
|Poul Anderson||"Scarecrow" in New Legends. Greg Bear (ed.) New York: Tor (1995)||2075||Pg. 346:
A calm that would have been beyond him had come upon Bronya. "Yes," she murmured, "you have a Manichaean kind of religion. Ormuzd and Ahriman, Law and Chaos, Light and Dark, forever at war. A very natural faith, here. . . . But that's all incomprehensible to you, isn't it? Never mind."
|Poul Anderson and Karen Anderson||The King of Ys: Roma Mater. New York: Baen (1986)||300 C.E.||Pg. 15:
While they numbered under a score, they were of many sorts, not only soldiers but workmen, serfs, slaves. Rank on earth counted for nothing before Ahura-Mazda.Pg. 71:
He didn't think Ahriman would deign to employ mere spooks, and in any event they must flee from the light of Ahura-Mazda which Mithras bore. He could not understand why otherwise rational people had all those vague superstitions about Ys.Pg. 282:
"Above all Gods," Gratillonius said, "is Ahura-Mazda. He's also called Ormazd, Jupiter, Zeus, many names. Those don't mean much; He Is, the High, the Ever-Good." He found himself slipping into the words of the Lion from whom he had received instruction. Well, they were doubtless better than any he could put together. "Below all Gods is Ahriman, Evil, Chaos, maker of hell and devils and misery. The story of the world is the story of the war between Ahura-Mazda and Ahriman. So is the story of your soul, lad. They war for it the same as they do for the whole of Creation. But you don't have to stand by helpless. You can be a soldier yourself."There are other references to Ahura-Mazda and Ahriman, figures from Zoroastrianism. But in the novel, these elements are apparently discussed in the context of Mithaism, which as absorbed them. Other references include pages 274, 282-283, etc.
|Piers Anthony||Vision of Tarot. New York: Berkley Books (1985; 1st ed. 1980)||1980||Pg. 38:
The source religion of Western Asia is unknown, but certain similar themes run through Buddhism, Brahmanism and Hinduism of India, and Mithraism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism of Asia Minor, suggesting that there was once a common body of information.
|Piers Anthony||God of Tarot. New York: Berkley (1982; c. 1977)||2077||Pg. 97:
"To me, God is All; He favors no particular sect. The Holy Order of Vision is not a sect in that sense; we seek only for the truth that is God, and feel that the form is irrelevant. While we honor Jesus Christ as the Son of God, we also honor the Buddha, Zoroaster, and the other great religious figure; indeed, we are all children of God..."
|Iain Banks||The Business. New York: Simon & Schuster (1999)||1999||Pg. 51:
...while some sport papers from places so little known that even experienced customs and immigration officers have been known to have to refer to their reference books to find them: places like Dasah, a trucial state on a small island in the Persian Gulf, or Thulahn, a mountainous principality between Sikkim and Bhutan, or the Zoroastrian People's Republic of Inner Magadan, between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Arctic Ocean, or San Borodin, the only independent Canary Isle.
|Greg Bear||Heads (fiction). New York: St. Martin's Press (1990)||2100||Pg. 101:
I had dipped into records of past prophets during my Earth research. Zarathustra. Jesus. Mohammed. Shabbetai Tzevi... Al Mahdi, who had defeated the British at Khartoum. Joseph Smith... and Brigham Young... And all the little ones since, the pretenders whose religions had eventually foundered, the charlatans of small talent, of skewed messages...
|Alexander Besher||Mir: A Novel of Virtual Reality. New York: Simon & Schuster (1998)||2036||Pg. 154:
|Michael Bishop||No Enemy But Time. New York: Timescape (1982) (Nebula award)||2002||Pg. 383:
The Marakoi Pops [in Kenya] broke into an up-tempo version of Thus Spake Zarathustra, and applause again filled the hall.
|James Blish||A Case of Conscience. New York: Ballantine (1958)||2049||Pg. 72:
"...Neither would a Taoist. Neither would a Zoroastrian, presuming that there were still such..."
|John DeChance||MagicNet. New York: William Morrow and Co. (1993)||1993||Novel has extensive references to Zoroastrianism and ancient Persian magic and religion, particularly at the end. Only a few shown here. Pg. 173:
"You said his big crotchet was Persian magic?"Pg. 213:
"...It's not Grant. I think . . . this may sound crazy. I think it's a god."
|Philip K. Dick||The Cosmic Puppets. (1957)||1957||Zoroastrianism isn't actually mentioned, but the novel draws on some Zoroastrian concepts and names. A man returns to the town of his childhood and finds it has become the site of a cosmic battle between good and evil. Two significant characters in the novel (first showing upon pg. 133) are Ormazd and Ahriman, names drawn from Zoroastrianism.|
|Philip K. Dick||A Maze of Death. Garden City, NY: Doubleday (1970)||2250||Pg. 205:
What did we make up? he asked himself blearily. The entire theology, he realized. They had fed into the ship's computer all the data they had in their possession concerning advanced religions. Into T.E.N.C.H. 889B had gone elaborate information dealing with Judaism, Christianity, Mohammedanism, Zoroastrianism, Tibetan Buddhism . . . a complex mass, out of which T.E.N.C.H. 889B was to distill a composite religion, a synthesis of every factor involved.
|Philip K. Dick||Valis. New York: Bantam (1981)||1971||Pg. 76-77:
"What's C.E.?"Pg. 112:
Being eclectic in terms of his theology, Fat listed a number of saviors: the Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus and Abu Al-Qasim Muhammad Ibn Abd Allah Abd Al-Muttalib Ibn Hashim (i.e. Muhammad). Sometimes he also listed Mani... The sifting bridge of Zoroastrianism had been set up, by means of which good souls (those of light) became separated from bad souls (those of darkness).[More here]
We are all wounded and we all need a physician--Elijah for the Jews, Asklepios for the Greeks, Christ for the Christians, Zoroaster for the Gnostic, the followers of Mani, and so forth.[Other references to Zoroaster, pg. 123, 159, 165, 222.]
|Philip K. Dick||The Divine Invasion. New York: Timescape (1981)||2150||Pg. 105:
QUMRAN SCROLL "THE WAR OF THE SONS OF LIGHT AND THE SONS OF DARKNESS." SOURCE: JEWISH ASCETIC SECT ESSENES.Pg. 126:
"After that," Zina said, "the idea of the judgment of human souls passed over into Persia." In the ancient Persian religion, Zoroastrianism, a sifting bridge had to be crossed by the newly dead person. If he was evil the bridge got narrower and narrower until it toppled off and plunged into the fiery pit of hell. Judaism in its later stages and Christianity had gotten their ideas of the Final Days from this.More, pg. 127.
|Harlan Ellison||"The Deathbird" in Kate Wilhelm (ed.), Nebula Award Stories Nine. New York: Harper and Row (1974)||?||Ellison quotes from the beginning of Nietzsche's book Thus Spake ZarathustraPg. 181:
Zarathustra descended alone from the mountains, encountering no one. But when he came into the forest, all at once there stood before him an old man who had left his holy cottage to look for roots in the woods. And thus spoke the old man to Zarathustra.
|John M. Ford||The Dragon Waiting. New York: Timescape Books (1983)||1478||Pg. 55:
For a terrible, weak-kneed instant Dimi thought he would not be able to speak, but the strength came. "You are Mithras, and you must slay the bull."[This reference is about Mithraism, which has absorbed some names and concepts from Zoroastrianism, including the name Ahriman.]
|Alan Dean Foster||Dayworld. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons (1985)||2600||One of the alter-egos of the day-hopping main character of this novel is named "Tom Zurvan," after the Persian god Zurvan. In Zoroastrian ancient history, Zurvanism was the most significant heresy against orthodox Zoroastrianism. The name is used here because Zurvan is often referred to as the "God of Time," and time is a central thematic element in the novel. Pg. 23:
Then Father Tom Zurvan strode into the room as if the Red Sea was parting before him. His waist-long auburn hair waved wildly like a nest of angry vipers. Painted on his forehead was a big orange S, which stood for "Symbol." Bright blue was daubed on the end of his nose... His ID disc bore a flattened figure eight lying on its side and slightly open at one end. The symbol for a broken eternity...
|Alan Dean Foster||To the Vanishing Point. New York: Warner Books (1988)||1988||Pg. 174:
"...I have... sat at the feet of all the prophets, trying to learn from them. Jesus and Buddha, Moses and Mohammed, Zoroaster and Confucius: all of them."
|Richard Garfinkle||Celestial Matters. New York: Tor (1996)||500 C.E.||Pg. 237:
"He wants no honor from us," I said. I pointed to the frieze of the last emperor of Persia surrendering to Alexander. "Mihradarius is a Zoroastrian fanatic. He is trying single-handedly to defeat the invaders who conquered his people and assimilated his religion a thousand years ago."
|Harry Harrison||Bill, the Galactic Hero. New York: Avon (1975; c. 1965)||4000||Pg. 36:
"...But I see you are troubled. May I ask if you are of the faith?"[Bill, the title character, is a Zoroastrian, although this fact is handled primarily in a satirical way and has little impact on the plot. Some other refs., e.g. pages 26, 37, 137.]
|Robert A. Heinlein||The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons (1966)||2076||Pg. 257:
Think I prefer a place as openly racist as India, where if you aren't Hindu, you're nobody--except that Parsees look down on Hindus and vice versa.
|Fritz Leiber||"Adept's Gambit" in Swords in the Mist in The Three of Swords. Garden City, NY: Nelson Doubleday (1973; c. 1947)||105 B.C.E.||Pg. 441:
For instance, a century later the priests of Ahriman were chanting, although they were too intelligent to believe it themselves, the miracle of Ahriman's snatching of his own hallowed shroud. One night the twelve accursed swordsmen saw the blackly scribbled shroud rise like a pillar of cobwebs from the altar, rise higher than mortal man, although the form within seemed anthropoid. Then Ahriman spoke from the shroud, and they worshiped him, and he replied with obscure parables and finally strode giantlike from the secret shrine.[Many other references to the priests of Ahriman, Ormadz, a girl named Ahura, and to Persians.]
|Fritz Leiber||The Wanderer. New York: Walker and Co. (1964) (Hugo award)||2015||Pg. 246:
On the sunbeaten mesa in Arizona, as if it were a Parsi Tower of Silence, vultures tore away the last shreds of the flesh of Asa Holcomb's face, laying wholly bare the beautiful grinning red bone.
|Fritz Leiber||Our Lady of Darkness. New York: Berkley Publishing Corp. (1977)||1977||Pg. 73:
But White was certainly Cal's adjective; all right, no Lady of Darkness, but a Lady of Light and in eternal opposition to the other, yang to its yin, Ormadz to its Ahriman--yes, by Robert Ingersoll!
|Richard Matheson||Bid Time Return. New York: Viking Press (1975)||1971||Pg. 7-8:
The Music Center. Stunning place. Went there a week or so ago... Mahler's Second Symphony. Mehta did a brilliant job. When the chorus came in softly in the final movement, I began to tingle.
|Ian McDonald||Evolution's Shore. New York: Bantam (1997; c. 1995)||2008||Pg. 172:
"You're right. The stars aren't out anymore. They never were. Something got there before us, before we ever existed."
|Judith Moffett||Pennterra. New York: Congdon & Weed Inc. (1987)||2233||Pg. 133:
I guess I'm licked, and I guess I was wrong all along to be so unyielding, but amn it all anyhow. For the first time in my life I can sympathize with all those hateful, heavy fathers cracking down on a son who had decided he was gay or a daughter in love with a black/Jew/Parsee/whatever. Unfortunately, being able to see the resemblance doesn't help me break free of it.
|James Morrow||Towing Jehovah. New York: Harcourt Brace and Co. (1994)||1994||Pg. 116:
She pushed PLAY. Instantly the bombastic opening of Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra erupted from the speakers, a fanfare popularized by Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Oddysey...Pg. 119 (also see pg. 118):
They couldn't get away from Nietzsche today: Zarathustra on the tape deck, Die Frohliche Wissenschaft on their tongues.
|Larry Niven |
and Steven Barnes
|Dream Park. New York: Ace (1981)||2051||Pg. 40:
"What's it like to die?"
|H. Beam Piper||The Complete Fuzzy. New York: Ace (1998). Omnibus collection of Piper's 3 "Fuzzy" novels: Little Fuzzy; The Other Human Race and Fuzzies and Other People||2650||[The "Fuzzy" novels take place entirely on the planet "Zarathustra," and there are many additional place names taken from Persian history (i.e., a moon named "Darius"). But the novel doesn't really have anything to do with Zoroastrianism. Technically, these could be counted as three separate works. Each novel stands well on its own. Incidentally, the first two novels have been published together as The Fuzzy Papers.] Example, page 6 of Little Fuzzy (from 2-vol. omnibus Fuzzy Papers):
And he had added a dozen more items to the lengthening list of what Zarathustra could not produce in adequate quantities and no longer needed to import... The Company didn't need to carry Zarathustra any more; Zarathustra could carry the Company, and itself. Fifteen years ago, when the Zarathustra Company had sent him here...
|Tim Powers||Expiration Date. New York: Tor (1996)||1996||Pg. 182:
Kootie's parents had told him all about Rama and Koot Hoomie and Zorro-Aster and Jiddu Krishnamurti...
|Kim Stanley Robinson||Red Mars. New York: Bantam (1993) (Nebula award)||2059||Pg. 418:
"No wonder Marxism is dead."
|Kim Stanley Robinson||Green Mars. New York: Bantam (1994) (Hugo award)||2110||Pg. 287:
[On Mars.] "There is a group of Sufis in Elysium," Dhu told them, "who are exploring backwards to our roots in Mithraism an Zoroastrianism..."
|Carl Sagan||Contact. New York: Simon & Schuster (1985)||1999||Pg. 205:
"...In Persia there were asuras also, but in Persia the asuras were the gods of good. Eventually religions sprang up, of which the chief god, the god of light, the Sun god, was called Ahura-Mazda. The Zoroastrians, for example, and the Mithraists. Ahura, Asura, it's the same name. There are still Zoroastrians today, and the Mithraists gave the early Christians a good fright..."
|Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson||Illuminatus, Vol. III: Leviathan. New York: Dell (1975)||1975||Pg. 18:
"You know how it is with writers. One of the Illuminati Magi scanned Yerby and he thought..."
|Dan Simmons||Phases of Gravity. New York: Bantam (1989)||1965||Pg. 154:
"You dragged me to see 2001: A Space Odyssey five times the year it was at the Cinerama theater in Houston." It was not an exaggeration... Dave had contented himself with having Mission Control awaken them at the end of each sleep period by playing the opening chords of Also Sprach Zarathustra. Baedecker had thought it mildly amusing the first few times.
|Neal Stephenson||The Diamond Age. New York: Bantam (1995). (Hugo award)||2050||The Parsis in this novel are one of the major future tribal/cultural groups, and Parsi establishments are described in China and Taiwan. [See also pgs. 8-9, 25, 336.] Pg. 7:
...a similar-looking gent--sort of Indian looking but sort of Arab too. "The Parsis welcome you to Peacock Bank," he said.Also, pg. 95:
He opened a desk drawer and took out a roll of thick, glossy mediatronic paper bearing animated Christmas scenes: Santa sliding down the chimney... the three Zoroastrian sovereigns dismounting from their dromedaries in front of the stable...
|S. M. Sterling||Island in the Sea of Time. New York: Penguin (1998)||1249|
She looked at her colleagues. "There's a certain balance of denominational forces here that's pretty well unique. And we're in a world where, say, Islam or Buddhism is completely absent, even Zoroastrianism. No other what you might call competing higher religions."
|Michael Swanwick||"The Edge of the World" in Modern Classics of Science Fiction. (Gardner Dozois, ed.) New York: St. Martin's Press (1991; story c. 1989)||2010||Pg. 650:
"Yeah, tell us about the monastery, Unca Russ,"...
|Jack Vance||Lyonesse: Madouc. Lancaster, PA: Underwood-Miller (1989)||700 C.E.||Pg. 2:
...while the Danaans introduced the more wholesome Aryan pantheon. With the Romans came Mithraism, Christianity, Parsh, the worship of Zoroaster, and a dozen other similar sects.
|Gene Wolfe||Soldier of the Mist. New York: Tor (1986)||479 B.C.E.||Pg. 258-260: Ahuramazda|
|Crystal Wood||Cut Him Out in Little Stars. Denton, TX: Tattersall Publishing (revised and reprinted 1998; c. 1994)||1998||Pg. 76:
Randy was telling him to 'fly like Superman.' The soundtrack went suddenly silent, and the rumbling music of Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra began.
Five references (Bishop, McDonald, Morrow, Simmons, Wood) don't mention Zoroastrianism specifically, but refer to Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra ("Thus Spake Zarathustra", i.e., the "theme song from Kubrick and Clarke's 2001: A Space Oddysey"). Matheson mentions the Zoroastrian conductor Zubin Mehta.
H. Beam Piper wrote a series of books which take place on a planet named "Zarathustra", but the novels have no Zoroastrian characters and no references to the Zoroastrian religion. Philip K. Dick's The Cosmic Puppets uses the names of major Zoroastrian religious figures as characters in a novel whose plot actually does draw from Zoroastrian concepts of duality.
The extended scene involving "Zarathustra" himself is in Harlan Ellison's "The Deathbird." This scene has little to do with actual Zoroastrianism, but is taken from the beginning of Nietzsche's book Thus Spake Zarathustra.
The remaining works actually refer to a variety of elements of Zoroastrianism: Heinlein refers to Parsi-Hindu ethnic animosity in India. In The Wanderer Leiber refers to Zoroastrian funery practices. Shea and Wilson mention a Magi in their Illuminatus. Niven refers to the Zoroastrian belief in a cold hell. Robinson's Green Mars refers to the Zoroastrian roots of Sufism while Philip K. Dick's The Divine Invasion refers (in some detail) to Zoroastrian influence on the Essenes, Judaism, and Christianity. Dick refers briefly to Zoroastrian dualism and some other theological concepts in Valis. Gene Wolfe, Fritz Leiber (Our Lady of Darkness), Poul Anderson (in both "Scarecrow" and The King of Ys: Roma Mater) and John M. Ford refer to Ormuzd and Ahriman. Sagan refers to Persian gods and to Ahura-Mazda. In Leiber's "Adept's Gambit" there are many references to the priests of Ahriman and Ormadz, a character named Ahura, and to Persians. The main character in Foster's Dayworld sometimes uses the pseudonym "Tom Zurvan," a reference to the Zurvan, the "god of time" in the extinct Zoroastrian heretical offshoot known as Zurvanism. Garfinkle refers to a Persian king who was a Zoroastrian. Banks alludes to a small Zoroastrian-dominated independent nation.
The most references to Zoroastrianism in a single sf/f novel we have found were in John DeChance's MagicNet, which evokes Zoroastrianism and Persian magic in contemporary times, and identifies Zoroastrianism as a primal source for much of today's religion and magic. Also significant is Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, which makes many references to an imagined future in which ethnic Parsis, because of their banking interests, are a major and important religious/cultural group. The main character of Harry Harrison's humorous novel Bill, the Galactic Hero, is a "Reformed Fundamentalist Zoroastrian," and the novel features a scene in which the young Zoroastrian military recruit visits the chaplain, who dutifully dons a Zoroastrian persona for his visit with Bill.
In summary, it appears that only about 13 of the references listed here actually have something to say about Zoroastrianism. These include Harrison, DeChance, Heinlein, Leiber ("Adept's Gambit"; The Wanderer; Our Lady of Darkness), Niven, Sagan, Robinson (Green Mars), Stephenson and Philip K. Dick (The Divine Invasion and Valis). Disregarding Ellison's appropriation of Zarathustra's name in a philosophical scene, the only science fiction novels we are aware of with actual Zoroastrian characters are Harrison's Bill, the Galactic Hero (in which the title character is a Zoroastrian), and Stephenson's The Diamond Age (which sports a minor, unnamed Parsi banker).
The earliest recorded reference to Zoroastrian according to the 17-volume Oxford Dictionary is in 1743. The next is in the year 1811 by the poet Lord Byron who stated:"I would sooner be a Paulican, Manichean, Spinozist, Gentile, Pyrrohonian, Zoroastrian, than any one of the seventy-two villanous sects that are tearing each other to pieces for the love of the Lord".However here in Norwich, East Anglia, England there once lived a well educated doctor and philosopher Sir Thomas Browne (1605-82) whose study of comparative religion resulted in him alluding to Zoroaster no less than twice in his writings.
Browne's references to Zoroaster are in fact the first in English language and literature.
Early in The Garden of Cyrus Browne writes:"And if Zoroaster were either Cham, Chus or Mizraim, they were early proficients therein, who left (as Pliny delivereth) a work of Agriculture."In his Religio Medici (1643) (i.e., "The Religion of a Doctor"), Browne states:"I believe, besides Zoroaster, there were divers that writ before Moses, who notwithstanding have suffered the common fate of time." [R.M. 1:23]Zoroaster the Persian religious leader and founder of the Zoroastrian religion is believed to have lived circa 628 B.C. to 551 B.C. Cyrus the great, the benevolent and tolerant ruler of ancient Persia, lived 580-529 B.C Given that Browne's major literary Discourse is entitled The Garden of Cyrus (1658), this may hint at Zoroastrian inclinations within Browne himself. There are also many references to ancient Persia in Browne's writings.
Later this year Mr. Faulkner plans to open his own Browne site ready for the year 2005 the quatercentenary of Browne's birth.
|Sample Quote and/or Description|
|Gore Vidal||Creation. New York: Random House (1981)||445 B.C.E.||[This novel has extensive references to Zoroastrian history, practices, scripture, beliefs, etc. throughout. The main character/narrator is the grandson of Zoroaster.] Pg. 4:
Have I not looked upon the holy fire, which is the face of Ahura Mazdah, the Wise Lord? I have also seen Persia and India and fathest Cathay. No other man alive has travled in as many lands as I.
Thanks to Barbara Ruth Campbell for suggesting Gore Vidal's Creation.
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