Fantasy is a genre of fiction set in a fictional universe, often
without any locations, events, or people referencing the real world.
Its roots are in oral traditions, which then became literature and
drama. From the twentieth century it has expanded further into various
media, including film, television, graphic novels and video games.
Fantasy is a subgenre of speculative fiction and is distinguished from
the genres of science fiction and horror by the absence of scientific
or macabre themes respectively, though these genres overlap. In
popular culture, the fantasy genre is predominantly of the medievalist
form. In its broadest sense, however, fantasy consists of works by
many writers, artists, filmmakers, and musicians from ancient myths
and legends to many recent and popular works.
2.1 Early history
2.2 Modern fantasy
4.1 By theme (subgenres)
4.2 By the function of the fantastic in the narrative
6 Related genres
7 See also
9 External links
Fantasy is studied in a number of disciplines including English and
other language studies, cultural studies, comparative literature,
history and medieval studies. Most fantasy uses magic or other
supernatural elements as a main plot element, theme, or setting. Magic
and magical creatures are common in many of these worlds.
An identifying trait of fantasy is the author's reliance on
imagination to create narrative elements that do not have to rely on
history or nature to be coherent. This differs from realistic
fiction in that realistic fiction has to attend to the history and
natural laws of reality, where fantasy does not. An author applies his
or her imagination to come up with characters, plots, and settings
that are impossible in reality.
Many fantasy authors use real-world folklore and mythology as
inspiration; and although another defining characteristic of the
fantasy genre is the inclusion of supernatural elements, such as
magic, this does not have to be the case. For instance, a narrative
that takes place in an imagined town in the northeastern United States
could be considered realistic fiction as long as the plot and
characters are consistent with the history of a region and the natural
characteristics that someone who has been to the northeastern United
States expects; however, if the narrative takes place in an imagined
town, on an imagined continent, with an imagined history and an
imagined ecosystem, the work becomes fantasy with or without
Fantasy has often been compared to science fiction and horror because
they are the major categories of speculative fiction.
distinguished from science fiction by the plausibility of the
narrative elements. A science fiction narrative is unlikely, though
seemingly possible through logical scientific or technological
extrapolation, where fantasy narratives do not need to be
scientifically possible. Authors have to rely on the readers'
suspension of disbelief, an acceptance of the unbelievable or
impossible for the sake of enjoyment, in order to write effective
fantasies. Despite both genres' heavy reliance on the supernatural,
fantasy and horror are distinguishable. Horror primarily evokes fear
through the protagonists' weaknesses or inability to deal with the
The violet fairy book
The violet fairy book (1906) (14730393436)
History of fantasy
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Main article: Early history of fantasy
Elements of the supernatural and the fantastic were a part of
literature from its beginning.
Fantasy elements occur throughout the
ancient Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh. The most well known fiction
from the Islamic world was The Book of One Thousand and One Nights
(Arabian Nights), which was a compilation of many ancient and medieval
folk tales. Various characters from this epic have become cultural
icons in Western culture, such as Aladdin,
Sinbad and Ali Baba. Hindu
mythology was an evolution of the earlier Vedic mythology and had many
more fantastical stories and characters, particularly in the Indian
Panchatantra (Fables of Bidpai), for example, used various
animal fables and magical tales to illustrate the central Indian
principles of political science. Chinese traditions have been
particularly influential in the vein of fantasy known as Chinoiserie,
including such writers as
Ernest Bramah and Barry Hughart.
Folk tales with fantastic elements intended for adults were a major
genre of ancient Greek literature. The contribution of the
Greco-Roman world to fantasy is vast and includes: The hero's journey
(also the figure of the chosen hero); magic gifts donated to win
(including the ring of power as in the Gyges story contained in the
Republic of Plato), prophecies (the oracle of Delphi), monsters and
creatures (especially Dragons), magicians and witches with the use of
Platonic teachings and early Christian theology are major influences
on the modern fantasy genre.
Plato used allegories to convey many
of his teachings, and early Christian writers interpreted both the
Old and New Testaments as employing parables to relay spiritual
truths. This ability to find meaning in a story that is not
literally true became the foundation that allowed the modern fantasy
genre to develop.
Beowulf is among the best known of the Nordic tales in the English
speaking world, and has had deep influence on the fantasy genre;
several fantasy works have retold the tale, such as John Gardner's
Grendel. Norse mythology, as found in the
Elder Edda and the
Younger Edda, includes such figures as
Odin and his fellow Aesir, and
dwarves, elves, dragons, and giants. These elements have been
directly imported into various fantasy works.The separate folklore of
Ireland, Wales, and Scotland has sometimes been used indiscriminately
for "Celtic" fantasy, sometimes with great effect; other writers have
specified the use of a single source. The Welsh tradition has been
particularly influential, due to its connection to King Arthur and its
collection in a single work, the epic Mabinogion.
There are many works where the boundary between fantasy and other
works is not clear; the question of whether the writers believed in
the possibilities of the marvels in
A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream or Sir
Gawain and the Green Knight makes it difficult to distinguish when
fantasy, in its modern sense, first began.
Although pre-dated by John Ruskin's The King of the Golden River
(1841), the history of modern fantasy literature is usually said to
begin with George MacDonald, the Scottish author of such novels as The
Princess and the
Phantastes (1858), the latter of which is
widely considered to be the first fantasy novel ever written for
adults. MacDonald was a major influence on both
J. R. R. Tolkien
J. R. R. Tolkien and
C. S. Lewis. The other major fantasy author of this era was William
Morris, an English poet who wrote several novels in the latter part of
the century, including The Well at the World's End.
Despite MacDonald's future influence with At the Back of the North
Wind (1871), Morris's popularity with his contemporaries, and H. G.
The Wonderful Visit
The Wonderful Visit (1895), it was not until the 20th century
that fantasy fiction began to reach a large audience. Lord Dunsany
established the genre's popularity in both the novel and the short
story form. H. Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, and Edgar Rice
Burroughs began to write fantasy at this time. These authors, along
with Abraham Merritt, established what was known as the "lost world"
subgenre, which was the most popular form of fantasy in the early
decades of the 20th century, although several classic children's
fantasies, such as
Peter Pan and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, were also
published around this time.
Juvenile fantasy was considered more acceptable than fantasy intended
for adults, with the effect that writers who wished to write fantasy
had to fit their work in a work for children. Nathaniel Hawthorne
wrote fantasy in A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys, intended for
children, though works for adults only verged on fantasy. For many
years, this and successes such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
(1865), created the circular effect that all fantasy works, even the
later The Lord of the Rings, were therefore classified as children's
Political and social trends can affect a society's reception towards
fantasy. In the early 20th century, the New Culture Movement's
enthusiasm for Westernization and science in China compelled them to
condemn the fantastical shenmo genre of traditional Chinese
literature. The spells and magical creatures of these novels were
viewed as superstitious and backward, products of a feudal society
hindering the modernization of China. Stories of the supernatural
continued to be denounced once the Communists rose to power, and
mainland China experienced a revival in fantasy only after the
Cultural Revolution had ended.
Fantasy became a genre of pulp magazines published in the West. In
1923, the first all-fantasy fiction magazine, Weird Tales, was
published. Many other similar magazines eventually followed, including
The Magazine of
Fantasy and Science Fiction; when it was founded in
1949, the pulp magazine format was at the height of its popularity,
and the magazine was instrumental in bringing fantasy fiction to a
wide audience in both the U.S. and Britain. Such magazines were also
instrumental in the rise of science fiction, and it was at this time
the two genres began to be associated with each other.
By 1950, "sword and sorcery" fiction had begun to find a wide
audience, with the success of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian
and Fritz Leiber's
Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. However, it
was the advent of high fantasy, and most of all J. R. R. Tolkien's The
Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which reached new heights of
popularity in the late 1960s, that allowed fantasy to truly enter the
mainstream. Several other series, such as C. S. Lewis's Chronicles
of Narnia and Ursula K. Le Guin's
Earthsea books, helped cement the
The popularity of the fantasy genre has continued to increase in the
21st century, as evidenced by the best-selling status of J. K.
Harry Potter series and George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice
and Fire series.
and Role-playing game
The term "
Fantasy Art" is closely related, and is applied primarily to
recent art (typically 20th century onwards) inspired by, or
illustrating, fantasy literature. It can be characterised by subject
matter—which portrays non-realistic, mystical, mythical or folkloric
subjects or events—and style, which is representational and
naturalistic, rather than abstract—or in the case of magazine
illustrations and similar, in the style of graphic novel art such as
Several fantasy film adaptations have achieved blockbuster status,
The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings film trilogy directed by Peter
Jackson, and the
Harry Potter films, two of the highest-grossing film
series in cinematic history. Meanwhile,
David Benioff and D. B. Weiss
would go on to produce the television drama series
Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones for
HBO, based on the book series by George R. R. Martin, which has gone
on to achieve unprecedented success for the fantasy genre on
Fantasy role-playing games cross several different media. Dungeons
Dragons was the first tabletop role-playing game and remains the
most successful and influential. The science fantasy
role-playing game series
Final Fantasy has been an icon of the
role-playing video game genre (as of 2012[update] it was still among
the top ten best-selling video game franchises). The first collectible
card game, Magic: The Gathering, has a fantasy theme and is similarly
dominant in the industry.
By theme (subgenres)
List of genres
List of genres § Fantasy
Fantasy encompasses numerous subgenres characterized by particular
themes or settings, or by an overlap with other literary genres or
forms of speculative fiction. They include the following:
Bangsian fantasy, interactions with famous historical figures in the
afterlife, named for John Kendrick Bangs
Comic fantasy, humorous in tone
Contemporary fantasy, set in the real world but involving magic or
other supernatural elements
Dark fantasy, including elements of horror fiction
Epic fantasy, see "high fantasy" below
Fables, stories with nonhuman characters, leading to "morals" or
Fairy tales themselves, as well as fairytale fantasy, which draws on
fairy tale themes
Fantastic poetry, poetry with a fantastic theme
Fantastique, French literary genre involving supernatural elements
Fantasy of manners, or mannerpunk, focusing on matters of social
standing in the way of a comedy of manners
Gaslamp fantasy, stories in a Victorian or Edwardian setting,
influenced by gothic fiction
Gods and demons fiction
Gods and demons fiction (shenmo), involving the gods and monsters of
"Grimdark" fiction, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek label for fiction with
an especially violent tone or dystopian themes
Hard fantasy, whose supernatural aspects are intended to be internally
consistent and explainable, named in analogy to hard science fiction
Heroic fantasy, concerned with the tales of heroes in imaginary lands
High fantasy or epic fantasy, characterized by a plot and themes of
Historical fantasy, historical fiction with fantasy elements
Juvenile fantasy, children's literature with fantasy elements
Low fantasy, characterized by few or non-intrusive supernatural
elements, often in contrast to high fantasy
Magic realism, a genre of literary fiction incorporating minor
Magical girl fantasy, involving young girls with magical powers,
mainly in Japanese anime and manga
Paranormal romance, romantic fiction with fantasy elements
Romantic fantasy, focusing on romantic relationships
Sword and sorcery, adventures of sword-wielding heroes, generally more
limited in scope than epic fantasy
Urban fantasy, set in a city
Weird fiction, macabre and unsettling stories from before the terms
"fantasy" and "horror" were widely used; see also the more modern
forms of slipstream fiction and the New Weird
Wuxia, Chinese martial-arts fiction often incorporating fantasy
By the function of the fantastic in the narrative
In her 2008 book Rhetorics of Fantasy,
Farah Mendlesohn proposes
the following taxonomy of fantasy, as "determined by the means by
which the fantastic enters the narrated world", while noting that
there are fantasies that fit none of the patterns:
In "portal-quest fantasy" or "portal fantasy", a fantastical world is
entered through a portal, behind which the fantastic elements remain
contained. A portal-quest fantasy tends to be a quest-type narrative,
whose main challenge is navigating a fantastical world. Well-known
examples include C. S. Lewis's novel The Lion, the Witch and the
Wardrobe (1950) and L. Frank Baum's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
In "immersive fantasy", the fictional world is seen as complete, its
fantastic elements are not questioned within the context of the story,
and the reader perceives the world through the eyes and ears of the
protagonist, without an explanatory narrative. This narrative mode
"consciously negates the sense of wonder" often associated with
speculative fiction, according to Mendlesohn, who adds that "a
sufficiently effective immersive fantasy may be indistinguishable from
science fiction" because the fantastic "acquires a scientific cohesion
all of its own", which has led to disputes about how to classify
novels such as Mary Gentle's
Ash (2000) and China Miéville's Perdido
Street Station (2000).
In "intrusion fantasy", the fantastic intrudes on reality (unlike
portal fantasies), and the protagonists' engagement with that
intrusion drives the story. Normally realist in style, assuming the
normal world as their base, intrusion fantasies rely heavily on
explanation and description. Immersive and portal fantasies may
themselves host intrusions. Classic intrusion fantasies include
Bram Stoker (1897) and the works of H. P. Lovecraft.
In "liminal fantasy", the fantastic enters a world that appears to be
our own, but this is perceived as normal by the protagonists, although
it disconcerts and estranges the reader. It is a relatively rare mode,
and such fantasies often adopt an ironic, blasé tone, as opposed to
the straight-faced mimesis of most other fantasy. Examples include
Joan Aiken's stories about the Armitage family, who are amazed that
unicorns appear on their lawn on a Tuesday, rather than on a
Avon Fantasy Reader
Avon Fantasy Reader 18
Professionals such as publishers, editors, authors, artists, and
scholars within the fantasy genre get together yearly at the World
Fantasy Convention. The
World Fantasy Awards
World Fantasy Awards are presented at the
convention. The first WFC was held in 1975 and it has occurred every
year since. The convention is held at a different city each year.
Additionally, many science fiction conventions, such as Florida's FX
Show and MegaCon, cater to fantasy and horror fans.
Anime Expo frequently feature showings of fantasy,
science fantasy, and dark fantasy series and films, such as Majutsushi
Sailor Moon (urban fantasy), Berserk (dark fantasy),
Spirited Away (fantasy). Many science fiction/fantasy and anime
conventions also strongly feature or cater to one or more of the
several subcultures within the main subcultures, including the cosplay
subculture (in which people make or wear costumes based on existing or
self-created characters, sometimes also acting out skits or plays as
well), the fan fiction subculture, and the fan video or AMV
subculture, as well as the large internet subculture devoted to
reading and writing prose fiction or doujinshi in or related to those
According to 2013 statistics by the fantasy publisher Tor Books, men
outnumber women by 67% to 33% among writers of historical, epic or
high fantasy. But among writers of urban fantasy or paranormal
romance, 57% are women and 43% are men.
Outline of fantasy
List of fantasy authors
List of fantasy novels
List of fantasy worlds
List of genres
List of high fantasy fiction
List of literary genres
Fantastique—a related but not identical French literary genre
^ a b ed. Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn, Cambridge Companion to
Fantasy Literature, ISBN 0-521-72873-8
^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Fantasy", p
338 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
^ Diana Waggoner, The Hills of Faraway: A Guide to Fantasy, p 10,
^ Charlie Jane Anders. "The Key Difference Between Urban
Horror". io9. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
^ Grant, John; Clute, John (1997). "Gilgamesh". The Encyclopedia of
Fantasy. London, England: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 410.
^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy,
"Chinoiserie", p 189 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
^ Hansen, William F. (1998). Anthology of Ancient Greek Popular
Literature. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
p. 260. ISBN 0-253-21157-3.
^ a b c d Mathews, Richard (2002) . Fantasy: The Liberation of
Imagination. New York City, New York and London, England: Routledge.
pp. 11–14. ISBN 0-415-93890-2.
^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Beowulf", p
107 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Nordic
fantasy", p 691 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
^ a b John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Celtic
fantasy", p 275 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
^ Brian Attebery, The
Fantasy Tradition in American Literature, p 14,
^ C.S. Lewis, "On Juvenile Tastes", p 41, Of Other Worlds: Essays and
Stories, ISBN 0-15-667897-7
^ Brian Attebery, The
Fantasy Tradition in American Literature, p 62,
^ Wang, David Dewei (2004). The Monster that is History: History,
Violence, and Fictional Writing in Twentieth-century China. University
of California Press. pp. 264–266.
^ L. Sprague de Camp, Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of
Heroic Fantasy, p 135 ISBN 0-87054-076-9
^ Jane Yolen, "Introduction" p vii-viii After the King: Stories in
Honor of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed, Martin H. Greenberg,
^ According to a 1999 survey in the United States, 6% of 12- to
35-year-olds have played role-playing games. Of those who play
regularly, two thirds play D&D.Dancey, Ryan S. (February 7, 2000).
"Adventure Game Industry Market Research Summary (RPGs)". V1.0.
Wizards of the Coast. Retrieved 23 February 2007.
^ Products branded Dungeons &
Dragons made up over fifty percent
of the RPG products sold in 2005. Hite, Kenneth (March 30, 2006).
"State of the Industry 2005: Another Such Victory Will Destroy Us".
GamingReport.com. Archived from the original on April 20, 2007.
Retrieved 21 February 2007. Retrieved from Internet Archive 20
^ ICv2 (November 9, 2011). "'Magic' Doubled Since 2008". Retrieved
November 10, 2011. For the more than 12 million players around the
world [...] Note that the "twelve million" figure given here is
used by Hasbro; while through their subsidiary Wizards of the Coast
they would be in the best position to know through tournament
registrations and card sales, they also have an interest in presenting
an optimistic estimate to the public.
^ Mendlesohn, Farah (2008). Rhetorics of Fantasy. Middletown, Conn.:
Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 978-0819568687.
^ Mendlesohn, "Introduction"
^ Mendlesohn, "Introduction: The Portal-
^ Mendlesohn, "Chapter 1"
^ Mendlesohn, "Introduction: The Immersive Fantasy"
^ Mendlesohn, "Introduction: The Intrusion Fantasy"
^ a b Mendlesohn, "Chapter 3"
^ Mendlesohn, "Introduction: The Liminal Fantasy"
^ Crisp, Julie (10 July 2013). "SEXISM IN GENRE PUBLISHING: A
PUBLISHER'S PERSPECTIVE". Tor Books. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
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