A Short History of Fantasy–Part 3
A Short History of Fantasy–Part 3 avatar

In part 2, we explored the fantasy of the Middle Ages. Now, let’s look at the growth of fantasy in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

In 1516, Ludovico Ariosto published his first version of Orlando Furioso, a romatic fantasy Orlando Furioso by Ludivico Ariostoin Italian that includes a trip to the moon in a flaming chariot, mythical creatures like the hippogriff, wizards and sorceresses. The final version was completed around 1532. The work was extremely popular, both on the European continent and in England, and probably influenced other writers of his time like Spenser and Shakespeare.

Published between 1590 and 1596, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene is a fantastic allegory based on the chivalry of the Arthurian Romances. It takes place in Faerieland and displays such fantastic aspects as an enchanted spear, a fiend from Hell, and Merlin, the wizard from Arthur’s court.

In France, between 1532 and 1564, Rabelais published the five books of Gargantua and Gargantua and Pantagruel by RabelaisPantagruel, satirical fantasies about two giants, father and son, and their many adventures.

The Faust legend from German sources found its way to England where Marlowe produced his play, The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, circa 1592. This play and the book it was based on has had an enormous effect on later fantasies about selling one’s soul to the devil.

Shakespeare was also influenced by the rise of the fantastic in literature. Nothing could be more fantasical than A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a story of fairies who influence the A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeareworld of mortals written around 1593 or The Tempest of 1611 about an island where sprites and magic take hold.

In the last part of the 17th century, in France, Charles Perrault published his very popular children’s stories, retelling folk tales for the general public. These stories included Little Red Riding Hook, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. This was the beginning of the fairy tale as a literary work.

Jonathan Swift’s Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships (better known as Gulliver’s Travels) was published in 1726. This great work of satire uses many fantastical elements to get its point across. Gulliver travels to places where the folk are tiny Lilliputians or gigantic Brobdingnagians or even talking horses (Houyhnhms) who rule a land of deformed and debased humans (Yahoos).

The Castle of Otranto by WalpoleHorace Walpole established the gothic romance with his 1764 novel, The Castle of Otranto, A Story. Translated by William Marshal, Gent. From the Original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the Church of St. Nicholas at Otranto (now known simply as The Castle of Otranto). It is full of mysterious supernatural happenings surrounding the nefarious plan of Manfred, lord of the castle, to throw over his wife and marry his dead son’s fiancée. William Beckford’s Vathek followed the gothic pattern in 1786 with its emphasis on the terror produced by supernatural ghosts and hauntings.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge published The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in 1798. It tells the story of a curse visited on a seaman who killed an albatross and was haunted until he The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridgelearned to bless the creatures of nature repented. The poem is an allegory that uses fantasy to represent Christianity or the beauty of Nature, depending on your point of view.

The new fantasies written in these three centuries helped to develop and make more popular fantastic work as a nascent genre. The next period we’ll explore is the very important 19th century. We’ll see how fantasy literature became both more accepted and less so and how the attitude toward it changed decisively in that period.

2011, Decision Consulting, Inc. (DCI). All rights reserved. All copies must include this copyright statement.

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