In a Nutshell: History of Fantasy

When someone mentions fantasy, most people’s minds immediately jump to either Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, which makes sense indeed. Both works are true representatives for the genre; however fantasy has already been around years before J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was published in 1937.

Fantastic elements are most likely as old as human imagination. Fantastic components appear in works of romance poetry of the 18th century, and especially during the Romantic era in the 19th century.

A lot of folklores and myths have elements that would be considered fantastic, but there is a difference between the fantasy genre as we know it, and legends and tales that have been passed down for generations.

Young John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973). Source: Creative Commons.

The fantasy genre oftentimes involves one or more authors creating a whole new world on its own, with own rules and geography, like Tolkien did with Middle Earth. Folklores do none of that, and the settings are roughly explained with “it happened long ago, in a place far away”.

It was in the late 19th and early 20th century that the modern fantasy genre took real shape. Scottish author George MacDonald wrote the first-ever adult fantasy novel Phantastes. MacDonald was supposedly a major influence on the famous fantasy writers J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, the creator of the Chronicles of Narnia.

After Tolkien published the Lord of the Rings series in the 1950s, and other fantasy classics were written such as Earth Sea, written by Ursula K. Le Guin, and Narnia, the genre’s demand rose exponentially and gave way for the wave of fantasy literature that is popular  to this day.

People of all ages and genders love fantasy because it is, in more ways than one, a nice escape from the boring and dull every-day life. Fantasy allows its readers to let their imagination completely run wild and to forget about the real life troubles for a while.

The more rational the world gets, the more we demand the irrational in our fiction.

-British fantasy author Mark Chadbourn (Swords of Albion series, Kingdom of the Serpent series).

Where science fiction is still somewhat based on the rules of nature and knowledge, fantasy has no such limitations. It offers everything a human mind could imagine.

Also today, fantasy novels are oftentimes the works that get especially young children into reading. J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is one of the most popular book series in the world.

Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.

-British fantasy and science fiction author Neil Gaiman (American Gods, Stardust).

Award-winning Film and TV series adaptions of the beloved fantasy classics such as Lord of the Rings, Narnia or Game of Thrones have only further increased the demand for works of the genre.


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