At the Gates of Dawn: History of Fantasy Literature – Part 3


In part one we looked at the earliest days of fantasy, and in part two we took our journey through the Era of Enlightenment to the Victorian Era. Now we wrap up our look at the history of fantasy literature in this post.

Before Lord of the Rings Era


Following the Victorian Era fantasy continued to be relegated to children. The first two decades of the 1900’s was dominated by the Oz books and the books of the prolific Edgar Rice Burroughs. His series Barsoom, Pellucidar, and the little known Tarzan first appeared in pulp magazines and then published as novels. Lord Dunsany made a huge impact on fantasy literature with the collection of his short stories in The Gods of Pegāna.

After the First World War fantasy fiction for adults became more popular. This included Living Alone (1919) by Stella Benson, A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) by David Lindsay, Lady into Fox (1922) by David Garnett, Lud-in-the-Mist (1926) by Hope Mirrlees, and Lolly Willowes (1926) by Sylvia Townsend Warner. E. R. Eddison was an influential writer, in particular The Worm Ouroboros.

The importance of pulp magazines on the development of fantasy (and science fiction) in the first half of the 20th century can’t be stated enough. As mentioned, most of Burroughs’ series started in magazine format. In the 30’s Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian) and H.P. Lovecraft (Cthulhu) worked predominantly with magazine publishers.

In 1937 The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien was first published. This lead the way for Lord of the Rings to be written in 1954. In 1950 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (and subsequently the Chronicles of Narnia series) by C.S. Lewis came to being. These helped popularize the genre.

Post Lord of the Rings Era


Despite the success of these books fantasy was still a small segment of the publishing world’s output. Certain classics saw the light of day, Something Wicked This Way Comes and A Wrinkle in Time and Lord of the Rings saw even greater success in 1965 when it was reprinted as a paperback.

It was a slow progression over the 60’s and 70’s to the 80’s before fantasy became entrenched as a publishing success. Such books and series as Sword of Shannara, The Belgariad, the Conan reprints, Michael Moorcock’s various series, led the way to fantasy becoming the publishing powerhouse it is today.

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