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Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction set in a fictional universe, often inspired by real world myth and folklore. 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, manga and video games.
Genre is any form or type of communication in any mode with socially-agreed-upon conventions developed over time. Genre is most popularly known as a category of literature, music, or other forms of art or entertainment, whether written or spoken, audio or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria, yet genres can be aesthetic, rhetorical, communicative, or functional. Genres form by conventions that change over time as cultures invent new genres and discontinue the use of old ones. Often, works fit into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining these conventions. Stand-alone texts, works, or pieces of communication may have individual styles, but genres are amalgams of these texts based on agreed-upon or socially inferred conventions. Some genres may have rigid, strictly adhered-to guidelines, while others may show great flexibility.
Speculative fiction is an umbrella genre encompassing fiction with certain elements that do not exist in the real world, often in the context of supernatural, futuristic or other imaginative themes. This includes, but is not limited to, science fiction, fantasy, superhero fiction, horror, utopian and dystopian fiction, fairytale fantasy, supernatural fiction as well as combinations thereof.
A fictional universe is a self-consistent setting with events, and often other elements, that differ from the real world. It may also be called an imagined, constructed or fictional realm. Fictional universes may appear in novels, comics, films, television shows, video games, and other creative works.
Fantasy 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 predominantly features settings of a medieval nature. 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.
Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction that has been called the "literature of ideas". It typically deals with imaginative and futuristic concepts such as advanced science and technology, time travel, parallel universes, fictional worlds, space exploration, and extraterrestrial life. It often explores the potential consequences of scientific innovations.
Horror is a genre of speculative fiction which is intended to frighten, scare, disgust, or startle its readers by inducing feelings of horror and terror. Literary historian J. A. Cuddon defined the horror story as "a piece of fiction in prose of variable length... which shocks, or even frightens the reader, or perhaps induces a feeling of repulsion or loathing". It creates an eerie and frightening atmosphere. Horror is frequently supernatural, though it can be non-supernatural. Often the central menace of a work of horror fiction can be interpreted as a metaphor for the larger fears of a society.
Popular culture is generally recognized by members of a society as a set of the practices, beliefs and objects that are dominant or ubiquitous in a society at a given point in time. Popular culture also encompasses the activities and feelings produced as a result of interaction with these dominant objects. Heavily influenced in modern times by mass media, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives of people in a given society. Therefore, popular culture has a way of influencing an individual's attitudes towards certain topics. However, there are various ways to define pop culture. Because of this, popular culture is something that can be defined in a variety of conflicting ways by different people across different contexts. It is generally viewed in contrast to other forms of culture such as folk culture, working-class culture, or high culture, and also through different theoretical perspectives such as psychoanalysis, structuralism, postmodernism, and more. The most common pop-culture categories are: entertainment, sports, news, politics, fashion, technology, and slang.
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.
The concept of the supernatural encompasses anything that is inexplicable by scientific understanding of the laws of nature but nevertheless argued by believers to exist. Examples include immaterial beings such as angels, gods and spirits, and claimed human abilities like magic, telekinesis and extrasensory perception.
Plot refers to the sequence of events inside a story where each event affects the next through the principle of cause-and-effect. The causal events of a plot can be thought of as a series of events linked by the connector "and so". Plots can vary from simple structures—such as in a traditional ballad—to complex interwoven structures sometimes referred to by the term imbroglio. In the narrative sense, the term highlights important points which have consequences within the story, according to Ansen Dibell. Plot is similar in meaning to the term storyline.
A legendary, mythical, and mythological creature, also called a fabulous beast and fabulous creature, is a supernatural animal, often a hybrid, sometimes part human, whose existence has not or cannot be proved and that is described in folklore but also in historical accounts before history became a science.
An identifying trait of fantasy is the author's use of 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. In writing fantasy the author creates characters, situations, and settings that are not possible in reality.
Many fantasy authors use real-world folklore and mythology as inspiration; [ dubious ]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 supernatural elements.
Fantasy has often been compared to science fiction and horror because they are the major categories of speculative fiction. Fantasy is 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 antagonists.
The term suspension of disbelief or willing suspension of disbelief has been defined as a willingness to suspend one's critical faculties and believe something surreal; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment. The term was coined in 1817 by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a "human interest and a semblance of truth" into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgement concerning the implausibility of the narrative. Suspension of disbelief often applies to fictional works of the action, comedy, fantasy, and horror genres. Cognitive estrangement in fiction involves using a person's ignorance to promote suspension of disbelief.
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 Islamic world was 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 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 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 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 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 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, as evidenced by the best-selling status of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series.
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 manga.
Several fantasy film adaptations have achieved blockbuster status, most notably 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 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 television.[ citation needed ]
Fantasy role-playing games cross several different media. Dungeons & Dragons was the first tabletop role-playing game and remains the most successful and influential. 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.Products branded Dungeons & Dragons made up over fifty percent of the RPG products sold in 2005.
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.
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:
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:
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 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 conventions, such as Ohayocon or Anime Expo frequently feature showings of fantasy, science fantasy, and dark fantasy series and films, such as Majutsushi Orphen (fantasy), Sailor Moon (urban fantasy), Berserk (dark fantasy), and 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 genres.
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.
Fantasy is studied in a number of disciplines including English and other language studies, cultural studies, comparative literature, history and medieval studies. For example, Tzvetan Todorov argues that the fantastic is a liminal space. Other work makes political, historical and literary connections between medievalism and popular culture.
Sword and sorcery (S&S) is a subgenre of fantasy characterized by sword-wielding heroes engaged in exciting and violent adventures. An element of romance is often present, as is an element of magic and the supernatural. Unlike works of high fantasy, the tales, though dramatic, focus mainly on personal battles rather than world-endangering matters. Sword and sorcery commonly overlaps with heroic fantasy.
A fantasy world is an author-conceived world created in fictional media, such as literature, film or games. Typical fantasy worlds involve magic or magical abilities, nonexistent technology and sometimes, either a historical or futuristic theme. Some worlds may be a parallel world connected to Earth via magical portals or items ; a fictional Earth set in the remote past or future ; or an entirely independent world set in another part of the universe.
Arabic epic literature encompasses epic poetry and epic fantasy in Arabic literature. Virtually all societies have developed folk tales encompassing tales of heroes. Although many of these are legends, many are based on real events and historical figures.
Historical fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy that encompasses the Middle Ages as well as sometimes and simply represents fictitious versions of historic events. This sub-genre is common among role-playing games and high fantasy literature. It can include various elements of medieval European culture and society, including a monarchical government, feudal social structure, medieval warfare, and mythical entities common in European folklore. Works of this genre may have plots set in biblical times or classical antiquity. They often have plots based very loosely on mythology or legends of Greek-Roman history, or the surrounding cultures of the same era.
Heroic fantasy is a subgenre of fiction in which events occur in a world where magic is prevalent and modern technology is non-existent. The setting may be an entirely fictitious in nature or based upon earth with some additions. Unlike dark fiction, it provides a setting in which all men are strong, all women beautiful, all life adventurous, and all problems simple. Meaning that adventures based in Heroic fantasy are unlikely to mention any wider problems that cannot be fixed by a quest. Characters within heroic fantasy are likely to be underdogs of humble origin who are placed in situations forcing them to act in a heroic manner, past what is expected of them.
Unknown was an American pulp fantasy fiction magazine, published from 1939 to 1943 by Street & Smith, and edited by John W. Campbell. Unknown was a companion to Street & Smith's science fiction pulp, Astounding Science Fiction, which was also edited by Campbell at the time; many authors and illustrators contributed to both magazines. The leading fantasy magazine in the 1930s was Weird Tales, which focused on shock and horror. Campbell wanted to publish a fantasy magazine with more finesse and humor than Weird Tales, and put his plans into action when Eric Frank Russell sent him the manuscript of his novel Sinister Barrier, about aliens who own the human race. Unknown's first issue appeared in March 1939; in addition to Sinister Barrier, it included H. L. Gold's "Trouble With Water", a humorous fantasy about a New Yorker who meets a water gnome. Gold's story was the first of many in Unknown to combine commonplace reality with the fantastic.
Fantasy literature is literature set in an imaginary universe, often but not always without any locations, events, or people from the real world. Magic, the supernatural and magical creatures are common in many of these imaginary worlds. It is a story that children and adults can read.
Dark fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy literary, artistic, and cinematic works that incorporate darker and frightening themes of fantasy. It also often combines fantasy with elements of horror or has a gloomy, darker tone, or a sense of horror and dread.
The new weird is a literary genre that began in the 1990s and developed in a series of novels and stories published from 2001 to 2005. M. John Harrison is credited with creating the term "New Weird" in the introduction to China Miéville's novella The Tain (2002). The writers involved are mostly novelists who are considered to be parts of the horror or speculative fiction genres but who often cross genre boundaries. Notable authors include K. J. Bishop, Steve Cockayne, Paul Di Filippo, M. John Harrison, Thomas Ligotti, Ian R. MacLeod, China Miéville, Alastair Reynolds, Justina Robson, Steph Swainston, and Jeff VanderMeer, among others.
Elements of the supernatural and the fantastic were an element of literature from its beginning. The modern genre is distinguished from tales and folklore, that contain fantastic elements, firstly by the acknowledged fictitious nature of the work, and secondly by the naming of an author. Works in which the marvels were not necessarily believed, or only half-believed, such as the European romances of chivalry and the tales of the Arabian Nights, slowly evolved into works with such traits. Authors like George MacDonald created the first explicitly fantastic works.
Islamic literature is literature written with an Islamic perspective, in any language.
Mythago Wood is a fantasy novel by British writer Robert Holdstock, published in the United Kingdom in 1984. It won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1985. It served as the first in a series of novels known as the Mythago Wood or Ryhope Wood cycle. It belongs to a type of fantasy literature known as mythic fiction. It has received critical acclaim for the quality of its prose, its forest setting, and its exploration of philosophical, spiritual and psychological themes.
Phyllis Eisenstein is an American author of science fiction and fantasy short stories and novels whose work has been nominated for both the Hugo Award and Nebula Award.
Everett Franklin Bleiler was an American editor, bibliographer, and scholar of science fiction, detective fiction, and fantasy literature. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, he co-edited the first "year's best" series of science fiction anthologies, and his Checklist of Fantastic Literature has been called "the foundation of modern SF bibliography". Among his other scholarly works are two Hugo Award–nominated volumes concerning early science fiction—Science-Fiction: The Early Years and Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years—and the massive Guide to Supernatural Fiction.
Richard Neil Barron was a science fiction bibliographer and scholar. His training was as a librarian. He is perhaps best known for his book Anatomy of Wonder: A Critical Guide to Science Fiction. He won the Pilgrim Award for Lifetime Achievement in the field of science fiction scholarship in 1982. He died on September 5, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Elements of the supernatural and the fantastic were an element of literature from its beginning, though the idea of a distinct genre, in the modern sense, is less than two centuries old.
In analysis of works of fiction, revisionism denotes the retelling of a conventional or established narrative with significant variations which deliberately "revise" the view shown in the original work. For example, the film Dances with Wolves may be regarded as a revisionist western because it portrays Native Americans sympathetically instead of as the savages of traditional westerns. Many original works of fantasy appear to retell fairy tales in a revisionist manner. The genre of "Arthurian literature" includes innumerable variations from themes of the classic tales of King Arthur. It is debatable whether any particular examples set out to create a revised view.
Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, An English-Language Selection, 1946-1987 is a nonfiction book written by David Pringle, published by Grafton Books in 1988 in the United Kingdom and the following year by Peter Bedrick Books in the United States. The foreword is by Brian W. Aldiss.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to fantasy:
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.
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