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Who Invented Fantasy?

Discussion in 'Research' started by Lancasrer, Oct 10, 2020.

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    11thc is right. Whether or not that's a novel is out for discussion. I'm not sure the Japanese (or Chinese or any other culture) came up with the idea of a novel. The word is Western and it's only been recently (a hundred years or so?) that folks have looked around at other cultures for analogous literary forms. It's a really complicated topic and I ain't no literary historian.

    One way of looking at it is, fantasy is a literary genre. You don't have literary genres until you have something more than "poetry" and "literature", which was pretty much the full slate until the 18thc or so. Then we start to see people speak of a new form--a "novel" form--of literature. I'm not sure when Pilgrim's Progress got tagged as the granddaddy of the novel, but my money's on the 19thc. That's the century when we really start seeing genres of literature, and that's when "fantasy" starts popping up as one of them.

    IOW, fantasy as a literary construct is 19thc and after. Stories with fantastical elements are very old. Then we can start a discussion of what might be called fantastic in a world where the audience readily believed in the real existence of angels, miracles, demons, and monsters, and where the line between "real" and "unreal" was not nearly so brightly drawn as today. We might call a particular story a fantasy where someone in the 9thc would call it a story about what happened in a village in the next valley.
     
  2. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Inkling

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    One of the characteristics of the novel when it first appeared was that it presented fiction in a realistic manner. This bothered some folks who felt this was akin to lying, but it does mark the beginning of realism in writing, and its clear differentiation from the romances that had preceded it. Until we had 'realism,' I don't think we could have 'fantasy' as something different from it.
     
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  3. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Adding for anyone who got here late that "romance" as it applied at the time doesn't refer to ripped bodices and sweaty bodies making squishing noises in a steaming humping mass. "Romance" referred to romantic prose: old-school adventure stories of heroes and knights and chivalrous feats of valor and whatever. If that's not fantasy, I don't know what is.

    One of the defining features of the novel as opposed to romance literature was--and, arguably, still is--that the novel provides allegorical commentary on some aspect of life or society through a fictional narrative. This was the difference between novels and romances at the outset. Novels employed literary devices--subtext, allegory, imagery, irony, hyperbole, metaphor, the stuff of poetry--to create unspoken commentary. The words in a novel mean more than the concrete definitions of the words on the page. (This is still true today. If you have a 60,000-word book that has no subtext, i.e. written entirely concretely, you don't have a novel. You have a novel-length story. Which is great, but it's not the same thing.)

    In this respect, novels were initially seen more like poetry: flowery, superficial, even vacuous. This is one of the reasons they were pooh-poohed in the early days. They weren't considered "serious" literature until later. Initially, many were considered scandalous as well for their commentary. Eventually, analyzing novels became an intellectual's game: "What he really meant was . . ." and so on, arguing over brandy late into the evening, and once it became the hip thing to do, well, here we are now.

    But those fantasy stories were already around long before the novel. They were romantic literature, adventure stories of heroes and monsters with their roots going back twenty-five hundred years. The Odyssey was written in the 8th Century B.C. Heck, A Thousand and One Nights may date back to the 8th Century A.D., and it's full of magic and djinn and flying carpets and all that. We're standing on the shoulders of giants.
     
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I'd be interested to know when you would date the first appearance of novel as a literary form. I won't argue it, as there's plenty of room for opinions on this one. Whole dissertations have been written on it. Just idly curious.

    Also, and equally idly <g>, when you reference romances, do you mean the roman of the early modern era?

    With apologies to the OP. As you can see, there's a huge range of possible answers to that question, but it would almost certainly not be one individual.
     
  5. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Ooh! Ooh! Again it was me on my time dragon. And it was last Friday when we went back. Don't remember exactly what date we arrived though. Dragons don't have dials! But I think it was some time after I invented the wheel!!!

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I admit a time dragon is a novel idea.
     
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  7. TOLKIEN DID NOT INVENT FANTASY! FANTASY EXISTED FOR YEARS BEFORE TOLKIEN!
     
  8. A lot of people are using mythology as an example, however I would like to stress the fact that mythology is not fantasy, as it is religious in origin. You wouldn't call Abrahamic Mythology (the religious stories of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) fantasy, so don't call things like Hellenist Mythology or Old Norse Mythology fantasy. It is important to respect all religions.
     
  9. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Minstrel

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    Please define what you mean by fantasy. Mythology can be regarded (in modern terms) as a form of fantasy, but it is an area where sometimes faith/religion/belief and stories about people overlap as in Homer's The Odyssey and in the Elder Edda. Legends can also be seen as a form of fantasy, as with King Arthur and Beowulf, but are themselves sometimes connected to folklore as with Wayland. With legends and mythology it is important to note that for the people of the time those were often seen as true history and not as fantasy. So a lot depends on how you define fantasy.
     
  10. I agree that legends (such as Beowulf) are fantasy, but mythology is not.
     
  11. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Minstrel

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    Except that I don't classify mythology or legends as fantasy. As I wrote, for the people of the time they were real, not fantasy. And that was also why I asked Lancasrer for a definition of what they mean by fantasy.
     
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  12. Myths were believed, but legends were not.
     
  13. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Minstrel

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    Wait one. If I remember my teachers correctly, myths were used to explain the world around people and usually had a basis in some form of belief system. Legends were based on fact, though they often had larger than life descriptions of people and events. Both were believed by the people of the time, though for differing reasons.
     
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