A Short History of Fantasy–Part 6
A Short History of Fantasy–Part 6 avatar

In part 5, we looked at the fantasy of the 20th century until the beginning of World War II. Not much noteworthy fantasy was published during the war, but some great works appeared shortly thereafter. In this part, we’ll look at some of those works published in the fantasy boom of the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

In 1941, Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp published the popular Incomplete Enchanter, a series of humorous novellas based on travel to various mythological or Well of the Unicorn by Fletcher Prattfictional locations. In 1948, Fletcher Pratt published his first solo novel, The Well of the Unicorn, in which he created a fantasy world based on medieval Denmark but developed into a world all its own.

Fritz Leiber published one of the first urban fantasies, Conjure Wife, in 1943. Ray Bradbury published his first collection of short stories, Dark Carnival, in 1947. Alexander M. Phillip’s unfortunately forgotten fantasy classic, The Mislaid Charm, was also published in 1947.

Shortly after the end of World War II in 1945, in a break from his otherwise mainstream fiction, George Orwell published Animal Farm, an anti-Stalinist allegory. This fantasy is a satirical look at corruption and greed. This work helped to bring fantasy to readers who probably wouldn’t have read anything in the genre.

In the 1950s, several writers left their mark on the children and young adult market for fantasy. C. S. Lewis published his Christian parable fantasy, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and later expanded it into the Chronicles of Narnia series. Although this series is written for children, it is quite sophisticated in its approach and philosophy. It is still widely read today and has been popularized in both a cartoon version made in 1979 and in a feature film made in 2005.

Charlotte's Web by E. B. WhiteCharlotte’s Web is E. B. White’s delightful tale of the friendship between a spider and a pig. The book is original in both its characters and in its approach to nature.

J. R. R. Tolkien published the three books of The Fellowship of the Ring in 1954-55. They were well received but did not become best sellers until 1966 when they were published by Ballantine in paperback editions. This trilogy (tetralogy if you include the earlier title, The Hobbit) has become the gold standard by which all other heroic fantasy is judged.

Although Ray Bradbury is generally thought of as a science fiction writer, he established himself irrevocably in the world of fantasy in 1957 with his publication of Dandelion Wine, a collection of short stories about a series of magical events meant to evoke the mysteries of childhood.

The highly original work, A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle, is the story of aPeter S. Beagle's A Fine and Private Place homeless man living in a cemetery. What makes this unusual is the relationship of this man with the ghosts of the dead. It led the way for many other quiet fantasies based on character rather than heroes and fabulous surroundings.

In 1963, Andre Norton burst onto the fantasy scene with her novel, Witch World, a world where witches are real (but not evil) magic workers. This was the start of a series of many works that take place in Norton’s witch universe. Norton was a prolific writer with well over 100 books to her credit.

Too Many Magicians by Randall GarrettRandall Garrett wrote a cross-genre novel in 1966 called Too Many Magicians about a detective and his assistant who solve magical crimes in a world reminiscent of that of the earthly Sherlock Holmes. It’s a good novel in both genres.

In 1968, Ursula le Guin, already established as a  science fiction writer, tried her hand very successfully at fantasy with The Wizard of Earthsea. This was later developed into a series of four novelsA Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin concerning the perils of misusing knowledge.

Both the audience and the types of fantasy changed somewhat during the last part of the twentieth century. In part 7, we’ll discuss some of the most popular and influential works leading up to the twenty-first century.

2012, Decision Consulting, Inc. (DCI). All rights reserved. All copies must include this copyright statement.

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