By J. R. Wagner
What are its origins? Who wrote the first fantasy novel?
These are questions both budding and existing fantasy authors should know.
First I think we need ta solid definition
I like this definition despite its source -The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979) -yes, the Soviets. I've broken it into two parts because the first part is more or less the definition and the second speaks of its origins (albeit a wordy piece of writing).
Fantasy: a type of fiction that ideologically and aesthetically subordinates reality to imagination by depicting a world of marvels that is contrasted to everyday reality and to accepted views of what is credible.
Fantasy literature originated in popular myths, as expressed in the fairy tale and the heroic epic. It is the product of many centuries of popular literary creativity. At the same time, fantasy literature is a continuation of that creativity, utilizing and renewing traditional mythological and fairy-tale characters, themes, and plots and combining them with elements from history and contemporary life. The result is a series of archetypes that combine fantasy and verisimilitude, that conform to the moral and aesthetic principles of an imaginary universe, and that constitute a continuously developing literary mosaic.
Based upon this definition, the fantasy genre is rather wide open. We could speak of Celtic, Roman, Greek(641BC-331AD) and Egyptian(2686-2181 BC) stories containing creatures that contrast everyday reality.
The Iliad dates back to 650 BC and its counterpart the Odyssey dates to 630 BC according to Andrew Dalby, author of Rediscovering Homer.
This is an excellent excerpt about the genre from FindMeAnAuthor.com
"Though the genre in its modern sense is less than two centuries old, its precedents have a long and distinguished history. Fantasy Fiction has a rich history of inspirations for critics to dissect and apply to the modern genre. It is often examined as the modern counterpart to mythology, but whether one of these practices inspired the other, and which inspired which, is hotly debated.
With its roots in myth and legend, fantasy is the most elemental of all the genres. It is certainly interesting that many people for many generations believed in myth and legend in a way that dramatically affected their life and their culture.
One thing is certain: there is something timeless about stories that pit motivating heroes who face long odds against dynamic villains. (It could also be argued that this is the elementary basis of most commercial fiction genres.) Good is good and evil is evil. Eventually there is often a happy ending although important secondary characters may have been killed.
Stories of the Odyssey, Arthur, and the like have influenced and shaped culture for centuries. Heroic fantasy yearns for a time of rigid class distinction, when good and evil were a part of breeding. When the strong ruled the weak and weak lived happily - providing rustic atmosphere in the way good peasants should. In fantasy, the reader may return to a simpler time - the world as we wish it might be."
One non-modern era publication that cannot be ignored is this Kinder- und Hausmärchen (German for Children's and Household Tales) commonly known today as Grimms Märchen: Grimms' Fairy Tales published in 1812. These stories have influenced writers of all genres for generations. Even today stories and films based upon these tales.
1865. Many spin-off books and films have come as a result of this novel as well.
The Modern Era of Fantasy
Looking forward 60 years we come to the first fantasy novel in the modern era. Over and over again I hear the name George MacDonald as the first author to publish a fantasy novel in the modern era.
One of the most successful and beloved of Victorian fairy tales, George Macdonald’s The Princess and the Goblin tells the story of young Princess Irene and her friend Curdie, who must outwit the threatening goblins who live in caves beneath her mountain home. Macdonald’s pioneering use of fanstasy as a literary medium had a great influence on Lewis Carroll (his later works, I'm assuming), J. R. R. Tolkien, and Madeleine L’Engle, all great admirers of his work, which has remained popular to this day. "I write, not for children," he wrote, "but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five."
Others say the first true fantasy novel published in the modern era was written by
The Wood Beyond the World was first published in 1894 and its author, William Morris is often considered one of the authors who aided in the growth of fantasy, utopian literature, and science fiction. C.S. Lewis cites William Morris as one of his favorite authors and J.R.R. Tolkein admits to being influenced greatly by Morris' fantasies. The hero of this romance is named Golden Walter, son of Bartholomew Golden, a great merchant in the town of Langton on Holm. Tired of his mundane life, Walter sets out on a sea voyage, anxious to see and learn more of the outside world, eventually winning for himself the kingdom of Stark-Wall and the love of a beautiful maiden.
A seldom mentioned story when referring to fantasy that actually cut its teeth as a play in 1904 and was soon adapted and expanded to a novel in 1911. It was written by J. M. Barrie. The title: Peter and Wendy (now known as Peter Pan).
Peter Pan fits the definition of a fantasy novel as well as any other and I'm sure has provided countless writers with inspiration.
There are over 30 published works based on Peter Pan as well as over a dozen films including my favorite simply called; Peter Pan.
A Voyage to Arcturus is a novel by Scottish writer David Lindsay, first published in 1920. It combines fantasy, philosophy, and science fiction in an exploration of the nature of good and evil and their relationship with existence. It has been described by critic and philosopher Colin Wilson as the "greatest novel of the twentieth century", and was a central influence on C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy.Also J. R. R. Tolkien said he read the book "with avidity", and praised it as a work of philosophy, religion, and morality.
Why is this particular book important? Well, there are two names cited as being influenced by this novel that may be familiar. C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien; two of the biggest names in modern fantasy.