The Origin Of The Fantasy Genre

Fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as long as dreams are alive


A beautiful quote from the one and only George RR Martin. Recently I have been thinking about the origin of fantasy. Now I am going to be honest and say that I have not read enough books to tell you the origin of fantasy genre however I have done my research. Fantasy can mean many things to all sorts of people but today we are going to talk about fantasy in the realm of books and story telling.

What is fantasy?

This is the first question that we need to ask ourselves. What is fantasy? Michael J Sullivan author of Theft of Swords said. “While scifi are things that could be possible in the future, fantasy are things that are not real and have no proof that it has existed.”

So paraphrasing Mr. Sullivan’s definition. Anything that is consider fantasy does not have proof of existence. Although there is a history behind magic, wizards and dragons, even in the bible, there is no physical proof that it exist. You can say that Dinosaurs are not fantasy because scientifically speaking fossils have been found proving that these creatures do exist, They are not just giants created from our imagination. On the other hand dragons have no fossils. No one has ever found evidence of these flying fire breathing lizards. (As cool as they are.)

There is no prove that an energy beam can shoot from a wand (Harry Potter) and hurt someone. Fantasy lives in our limitless imagination. If is not real then it is fantasy ( or so we think is not real). However many spiritual practitioners have said that such things like dragons, wizards and elves, probably live in another dimention(Einsteins Theory). An alternate universe.

The Origin of fantasy. 

For some strange reason we have associated Greek Mythology with fantasy. Then again is an idea or believe, a story told by ancients. Myth dont have proof that they are real either so they fall in the category of fantasy like a puzzle piece. Today we call these Greek myths fantasy. Video games such as God of War have made us associate Greek mythology as being fantasy rather then a part of history. The same goes for elves and dwarves. The name Dwarf was given to those who were below average human size. Then there is the idea of dwarves, these creatures that love to forge metal and have big shaggy beards. Today we call those people, midgets.

Let me help you understand what I am trying to say here. Think of the 1911 Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. ( not the Disney Peter Pan). For those who were not accustom to the idea of fairies, when the play of Peter Pan first came out, it could have been a shocker to parents. It was made for kids and I dare say one of the first times that the idea of fairies was brought to life in the form of a play since the time of Shakespeare. Now unlike fairies were always, for lack of a better phrase, in the shadows. Little people that could fly or perhaps hundreds of years ago, fairies were seen differently. In European folklore, fairies dont really have an origin. They were just part of literature. Some describe them as fall angels or demons. Back in the 1800’s some referred to fairies as spirits of the dead. In christian mythology, fairies were considered the “in between beings” meaning that those in heavens were angels, those in hell were demons and those special entities caught in between (our world) were fairies with special powers.

That is how folklore introduced fairies. It was not considered fantasy but a myth, meaning at its point in time of history, people believed it somewhat much like Christians believe in angels. The same as angels, where does the idea of angels come from. Surely they are part of fantasy as well. Of course they are. Angels have been part of the christian mythology is before the time of Jesus. In fact the fiction of Jesus himself, today it can be consider a fantasy. The power to turn water into wine, to walk on water and to heal the ill with such ease, those are powers beyond human comprehension. That falls under the category of fantasy. Back then it was called, witch craft or sorcery when people saw these things.

The reason why many authors use fairies in their novels is because of the first few people that were bold enough to use them. JM Barrie for example with Tinker Bell. Disney made it even bigger (after the it became a public domain of course).

Now lets talk about Witches. The idea of witches goes back way before the 1500’s. The dark ages as we call it. However, thanks to writers like Williams Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton , the idea of witches was given an image. Now if I have done my research right ( and you can contribute too) Thomas Middleton wrote The Witch is 1616 then Shakespeare incorporate parts of The Witch into his play Macbeth. Hecate and the Three Witches.

The way witches are used now in fantasy novels, video games, movies, comic books, anime and manga is not like in those ages. Witches were not known for shooting beams of light from their wands (Harry Potter). Even the art of invocation (summoning) was different. How our entertainment shows us is incredibly different than back then( or is it). You can say that we have a higher imagination thanks to the work of artist and writers before us.

In May 17 of 1900. A book that revolutionize the idea of witches flying on a broomstick was released. That book is called “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I hate the title but back then it was magnificent. This was the beginning of fantasy. Then an even greater world exploded opening up the third eye of our imagination. In 1937 Tolkien released the Hobbit. I would say that this is where most fantasy originates from. I consider Tolkien the pioneer of the genre. The way that he used elves and dwarves. He really gave people a window to see into the possible worlds in our imagination. He is the first world builder.

That is it for this article. This is how far my research takes me. Tell me your opinion.

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