At the Gates of Dawn: History of Fantasy Literature – Part 2

Deja Brew

In part one we saw the earliest examples of fantasy literature in history, this post continues our journey.

Era of Enlightenment

Gulliver's Travels

Literary fantasy was for the most part ignored during the Age of Enlightenment. Some exceptions included the fairy tales of Charles Perrault and Madame d’Aulnoy. In fact d’Aulnoy coined the term “fairy tale”, and many of Perrault’s stories have influenced storytelling ever since.

Voltaire wrote several philosophical fantasies, and Jonathan Swift published the satirical Gulliver’s Travels.

Romantic Era

Grimm's Fairy Tales.

Where the Enlightenment turned its back on fantasy the Romantics embraced it. During this time the creation of a sub-genre was created, the Gothic novel. Brooding stories of horror and romance which began with The Castle of Otranto and culminated with Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein in 1818.

In Germany the Brothers Grimm collected folk tales into their Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It became a seminal work and laid the foundation for future fantasists.

Victorian Era

Alice in Wonderland

Fantasy fiction exploded during the Victorian era, in both adult stories and the then new juvenile literature. In 1835 Hans Christian Andersen published his first book of fairy tales. John Ruskin wrote The King of the Golden River in 1851. Then in 1865 Charles Dodgson gave us the significant Alice in Wonderland.

George MacDonald can be considered the father of modern fantasy. He wrote several books for children (ie. Princess and the Goblin) but also the first adult fantasy novel Phantaste. MacDonald was a massive influence on J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Artist, designer, essayist William Morris was also a fantasist and medieval reviver. Later in life he wrote a series of fantasy novels, in particular The Wood Beyond the World and The Well at the World’s End, both of which are set in entirely fabricated worlds, unlike dream worlds or fairy lands of past stories.

In addition to Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, two other classics of children’s literature were published near the end of the era. J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz (and the the continuing Oz series of books).

In part three we look at the 20th century. Be sure to read the Stela library of fantasy at

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