Genre of unrealistic fiction. The term has been loosely applied to a range of works and attempts to define it more precisely have not been successful. However, a feature shared by most fantasy fiction is its reliance on strangeness of setting (often an imaginary or dream world) and of characters (supernatural or non-human beings).
The genre was advanced by 19th-century works, such as The King of the Golden River (1851) by John Ruskin, The Rose and the Ring (1855) by William Makepeace Thackeray, The Water Babies (1863) by Charles Kingsley, and Alice in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll, most of which were written for children but also appealed to adults. As a commercial literary genre, fantasy began to thrive after the success of J R R Tolkien'sThe Lord of the Rings (1954–55). Terry Pratchett, one of Britain's leading fantasy writers, produced many best-sellers including Mort (1987), and achieved cult status.
Fantasy has provided many authors with an opportunity for creative use of language not available in other areas. The use of familiar language to depict the unfamiliar is a challenge that requires skilful analogy and imaginative ingenuity. The narrative must convey a credible story, even though normal expectations do not apply, and it must be logically developed in order that the reader can properly engage with the work. Names for creatures and individuals used in fantasy fiction are often exotic and elaborate, such as Carroll's Jabberwock and Snark, Tolkien's Gandalf, and Edgar Rice Burrough's Jeddak of Thark. Neologism is a characteristic feature of nonsense verse and of descriptions of people, places, and objects in fantasy. Tolkien's work involves whole imaginary languages, notably Elvish, which could be described as a blend of romantic medieval and biblical English.
Some works of fantasy have a didactic purpose. For example, C S Lewis conveys a Christian message in his Chronicles of Narnia, although even in such cases it can be distinguished from allegory, which is more controlled and has a more direct relationship with the familiar. Fantasy fiction is also distinct from genres such as horror and the gothic novel, in which the supernatural usually imposes upon the natural world without the creation of an entirely different one, and from science fiction, which is typically set in worlds separated by space and time from the one in which we live.
Much fantasy is pseudomedieval in subject matter and tone. Such works include Ursula K Le Guin'sEarthsea series (1968–91), Stephen Donaldson'sChronicles of Thomas Covenant (1978–83), and, in the more urban tradition, John Crowley'sLittle, Big (1980), Michael Moorcock'sGloriana (1978), and Gene Wolfe'sFree, Live Free (1985). Such books are closely allied to the magic realism of writers such as Gabriel García Márquez, Angela Carter, and Isabel Allende.
Well-known US fantasy authors include Thomas Pynchon and Ray Bradbury, whose works are often in the science fiction genre.
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