From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"It is as though 'the limited nature of space', to which Kant referred in his Distinctions of Regions in Space (1768), had inserted into it an additional dimension, where 'incongruent counterparts' can co-exist and where that transformation Kant called 'a turning over of a left hand into a right hand' can be effected."--Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion (1981) by Rosemary Jackson
In general terms, fantasy is that which comes from one's imagination.
Fantasy is also a genre of art or fiction that uses magic and other supernatural forms as a primary element of plot, theme, and/or setting. Fantasy is generally distinguished from science fiction and horror by the expectation that it steers clear of technological and macabre themes, respectively, though there is a great deal of overlap between the three (collectively known as speculative fiction).
From Old French fantasie (“fantasy”), from Latin phantasia (“imagination”), from Ancient Greek φαντασία (phantasia, “apparition”), from φαντάζω (phantazō, “to show at the eye or the mind”), from φαίνω (phainō, “to show in light”), from the same root as ϕῶς (phôs, “light”).
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 ancient Babylonian creation epic, the Enûma Eliš, in which the god Marduk slays the goddess Tiamat, contains the theme of a cosmic battle between good and evil, which is characteristic of the modern fantasy genre. Genres of romantic and fantasy literature existed in ancient Egypt. The Tales of the Court of King Khufu, which is preserved in the Westcar Papyrus and was probably written in the middle of the second half of the eighteenth century BC, preserves a mixture of stories with elements of historical fiction, fantasy, and satire. Egyptian funerary texts preserve mythological tales, the most significant of which are the myths of Osiris and his son Horus.
Myth with fantastic elements intended for adults were a major genre of ancient Greek literature. The comedies of Aristophanes are filled with fantastic elements, particularly his play The Birds, in which an Athenian man builds a city in the clouds with the birds and challenges Zeus's authority. Ovid's Metamorphoses and Apuleius's The Golden Ass are both works that influenced the development of the fantasy genre by taking mythic elements and weaving them into personal accounts. Both works involve complex narratives in which humans beings are transformed into animals or inanimate objects. 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.
The most well known fiction from the Arabic world is One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights), which is 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 epics. The 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.
Beowulf is among the best known of the Old English 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 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 Goblin and 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 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. Wells's 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 into forms aimed at children. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote fantasy in A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys, intended for children, although 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 literature.
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 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 genre's popularity.
The popularity of the fantasy genre has continued to increase in the 21st century.
- Fantasy (psychology)
- Fantasy tropes and conventions
- Fantasy or fantastique?
- "Fantasy and invention" in the work of Goya
- Fantasy literature
- List of fantasy authors
- List of fantasy worlds
- List of fantasy novels
- List of high fantasy fiction
- Fairy tale
- Sexual fantasy
- Science fiction
- Speculative fiction
- Supernatural fiction
- Themes in fantasy
- Fantasy subgenres