Here are our notes on the fantasy genre. This is a quick overview; click the links for further information.
The fantasy genre
Fantasy can be defined as a fiction genre which involves magical elements. The story is set partly or entirely in an imaginary world sometimes resembling the Middle Ages. Characters might be elves, dragons, witches etc.
The fantasy genre has many subgenres. Some of these are high fantasy, contemporary fantasy, sword and sorcery, and dark fantasy.
Fantasy up until the 19th century
The origin of fantasy is hard to pinpoint, but it most likely dates back to oral traditions, myths, and folklore: Tales of superstition have always been a way to explain upsetting events.
The first notable example of a work of fantasy was Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). This book is particularly famous for its use of literary nonsense. However, fantasy was still not a popular genre at the time.
Fantasy in the 20th century
In the first part of the 20th century, fantasy was considered children’s literature and a niche genre.
In the second part of the 20th century, however, the genre started gaining popularity. This was kickstarted by C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956) and J. R. R. Tolkien’sThe Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), and decades later by Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea (spanning 1968-2001).
Another major popularity boost with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials (1995-2000), George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (1996-ongoing), and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter (1997-2007) .
Fantasy in the 21st century
So far in the 21st century, fantasy has become a mainstream genre, thanks to screen adaptations of popular works, such as Harry Potter (2001-2011), Twilight Saga (2008-2012), and Game of Thrones (2011-2019).
Fantasy has greatly inspired the world of video games, with computer role playing games like Dragon Age (2009-2014) and The Witcher (2007-2015) as popular examples. A subgenre called MMORPG where thousands of players can play together in the same fantasy world has also emerged, with World of Warcraft (2004) as a prime example.
A current trend in fantasy literature is the focus on diversity in terms of gender, race, or sexuality. E.g. Mask of Shadows (2017-2018) by Linsey Miller features a gender fluid protagonist.
Another trend is the rise of fantasy literature built on non-western mythologies. Traditionally, fantasy has been a very English genre, with characters, geography, and mythology inspired by Western Europe. However, non-western authors such as Asian authors are now making the genre more diverse.
It may be relevant to consider why we read or watch fantasy. It may be about escapism, as escaping to imaginary worlds allows you to forget about real-life problems. However, fantasy may also function as social commentary, critically commenting on issues of society, such as gender stereotypes or racism.
When analyzing fantasy, the following elements are relevant to look at: worlds and portals (= setting), plot structure, protagonist, antagonist, helper, and love object. The terms “primary world” and “secondary world” are particularly relevant.
Common themes in fantasy are good vs. evil, finding your identity, death and sacrifice, justice, love, and friendship....