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NEW: Viking Books and Series
I have a new section on the website that is all about viking books both historical viking and norse fantasy.

NEW HBO Series: A Game of Thrones
HBO is producing a series based on the George RR Martin A Song of Ice and fire series of books. To be released early next spring and starring Lena Headey and Sean Bean.

The Massive list of Fantasy Series
Looking for a series to read? Here is the biggest list of fantasy series on the web.

Award Winning Children's fantasy books
Awards are a sure fire way to find the best books in Childrens Fantasy.

The Heroes of Fantasy
Learn about some of the top heroes in fantasy also find one by theme such as assassin, wizard, anti-hero or orphan turned hero.

The Top 50 Science Fiction and Fantasy books of the Century
As judged by the Science Fiction Book Club. Nice explanation and list of the books. Good Guide for the best reading in SF&F.

The Top Selling Fantasy books at Amazon.com
Take clues from what others in the fantas community are reading and buying

The History of Fantasy - Part 1: The Origins of Modern Fantasy

There are the ancient tales and fables that have been with us for a thousand years or more. These are fantastic and magical tales with swords, magic and grand adventures. These ancient tales are the forefather of what we consider to be the modern genre of fantasy. In this fantasy guide I give you the history of the modern fantasy story and list the major writers and works.

NEXT:: I take a look at the Middle Era of Fantasy which is the period of time from the Publication of the Hobbit in 1937 to the publication of The Sword of Shannara in 1977. You can read that here

I define this time period of origins as the years between 1872 with the publication of the first work in the genre to 1937 when the Hobbit was published. With the publication of The Hobbit the genre had been reborn into its modern era.

Let me first describe a little bit about what I mean when I say fantasy and to do this I will quote Lin Carter " I mean the tale of quest, adventure or war set in an invented age and worldscape of the author's own imagination. "

That's a pretty darn good definition and nowadays it is very rich and pretty well defined but in the early period of fantasy it was a very new thing and just being born so it was a bit different from what is written now. It drew on earlier works like fables and tales. So, these early works were the birth of the genre and were also a bridge from that older genre to what we now have.

How did it all start?

The genre started in the Victorian age in England in 1872.

The very first work of fantasy in the modern era is typically attributed to a work called "The Wood beyond the World which was first published in 1894. by William Morris. And there is some truth to this but it isn't 100% accurate. It is the book that really got the genre it's start. But what would be more accurately described as the first work in the genre of modern fantasy is a book called "The Princess and the Goblin" by George MacDonald which was published in 1872.

William Morris went on to write and publish more works in the fantasy genre and "The Well at the end of the World" is also one of the early definitive works.

The Princess and the GoblinThe Princess and the Goblin tells the story of young Princess Irene and her friend Curdie, who must outwit the threatening goblins who live in caves beneath her mountain home. Macdonald's pioneering use of fantasy as a literary medium had a great influence on Lewis Carroll, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Madeleine L'Engle, all great admirers of his work, which has remained popular to this day. "I write, not for children," he wrote, "but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five."

 

 

The wood beyond the worldThe Wood Beyond the World (Wildside Fantasy)

 

 

 

 

The Well at the World's End: Volume I

In the land of the Upmeads, King Peter's sons thirst for adventure and the King agrees that all except Ralph, the youngest, may go forth. But Ralph secretly makes his way to Wulstead, and here learns about the Well at the World's End, beginning a journey which will eventually lead him there.

 

 

The Well at the World's End: Volume II

Long ago there was a little land, over which ruled a regulus or kinglet, who was called King Peter, though his kingdom was but little. He had four sons whose names were Blaise, Hugh, Gregory and Ralph: of these Ralph was the youngest, whereas he was but of twenty winters and one; and Blaise was the oldest and had seen thirty winters. odern fantasy has been around for a while now and it is gets its inspiration from the anicent talesTombs of Atuan is the second book in LeGuin’s Earthsea series of books. At less than 150 pages in length it is a small yet magical book that is suitable for children and adults. This is a perfect book for bedtime stories or if you want something light that won’t take a year to finish.

The Genre evolves and branches

After these seminal early works other writers started exploring the new genre and they added their own touches and aimed at particular audiences. This is where the genre began to grow and split into it's sub-genres.

The Fantasy Genre has a very strong component written for children. It is a very traditional and accepted part of the genre. These wondrous tales lead themselves very much so to the imagination of children. We can see this in the plethora of fantasy books for young adults and children which include the phenomenally successful Harry Potter series.

Five Children and ItThis addition to the genre is generally credited with the author Edith Nesbit Edith Nesbit with her work "Five Children and It" which was first published in 1902. It lays the template for lots of children's fantasy to come. The story begins when a group of children move from London to the countryside of Kent . While playing in a gravel pit soon after the move, they uncover a rather grumpy, ugly and occasionally malevolent sand- fairy known as the Psammead who is compelled to grant one wish of theirs per day. The Basic idea is that children embark on magical and wondrous fantasy adventures. Five Children and It

 

Five Children and It is the first of a trilogy of novels about the same five children who embark on adventures. The second novel is "The Phoenix And The Carpet " (1904) and the third novel is "The story of the Amulet" (1906)

Nesbit first broke the genre off into its first subgenre and many other authors began, around the 1920's to add their particular voice and flavor to fantasy.

The next generation of writers begin to add to the depth and breadth of the genre.

The Ship of Ishtar One of the most vibrant sub genres of Fantasy is Swords & Sorcery which is a variation of heroic fantasy. This comes into it's full fruition with Robert E. Howards Conan. This wasn't fully realized and fleshed out until the golden age of the pulp magazine in later years. But there was a work during this period that might be considered to be the first good representation of Swords & Sorcery. It is A. Merritt's The Ship of Ishtar.

 

 

I will wrap up this article on the roots of fantasy by looking at two more authors who published their seminal works in the 1920's . They are E.R. Eddison and Lord Dunsany.

The Genre becomes more epic and more heroic with the publication of E.R. Eddison's "The Worm Ouroboros" (1922). In this book much emphasis is placed on large quests and heroic achievements and the concepts of honor and chivalry are highly regarded and touted. . It is a solid precursor to Tolkien and the modern works. The Worm Ouroboros

This book can be difficult to read though. The language can be a bit of a challenge.

Eddison wrote other works in the yet unnamed genre of fantasy including a trilogy of three that are loosely tied to the Worm Ouroboros. The Zimiamvia Trilogy: Mistress of Mistresses , A Fish Dinner in Memison and The Mezentian Gate .

 

The King of Elfland's daughter

In 1926 Lord Dunsany published "The King of Elfland's Daughter". This novel further broadened the reach of the Fantasy Novel and in this work we move into fairytale fantasy and high fantasy. Many consider this book to be one of the finest examples of Fantasy.

The King of Elfland's Daughter (Del Rey Impact)

Another wonderful example of fantasy work by Dunsany is "The Charwoman's Shadow ".

 

 

 

Synopsis and timeline of the Roots of Modern Fantasy:

NEXT:: I take a look at the Middle Era of Fantasy which is the period of time from the Publication of the Hobbit in 1937 to the publication of The Sword of Shannara in 1977. You can read that here


 

RESOURCES AND MORE

A short history of fantasy

A Short History of Fantasy

Some of the earliest books written - The Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Odyssey - are fantasy, dealing with monsters, marvels, extraordinary voyages and magic. Fantasy remained an essential part of European literature until the rise of the modern realist novel. But even then fantasy remained popular, in the guise of Gothic horror, the ghost story, the fairytale and stories of imaginary worlds: it was in part a reaction to the Enlightenment, to realism and to industrialisation. This book traces the history of fantasy from the earliest years through to the origins of modern fantasy in the twentieth century. From the 1950s (when Tolkien published The Lord of the Rings and Lewis published the Narnia books) the story is dealt with decade by decade. In the 1980s, fantasy earned its own section in bookshops in the English-speaking world and beyond, and by the end of the 1990s, fantasy writers such as Terry Pratchett and J.K. Rowling had become the best-selling writers in Britain, while Tolkien was a best-seller in all the major languages of the world. A Short History of Fantasy explores the great variety of fiction published under the heading 'fantasy' in the twenty-first century, and also seeks to explain its continuing and growing popularity.

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