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Year 7 English: Introduction to Fantasy

A brief introduction to the fantasy genre: definitions, origins and conventions. By M. McDonald, St Leonard's College.
by

Matthew McDonald

on 15 April 2014

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Transcript of Year 7 English: Introduction to Fantasy

Fantasy Literature What is 'Fantasy'? "Although it is difficult to define fantasy precisely, most critics agree it is a type of fiction that evokes wonder, mystery, or magic – a sense of possibility beyond the ordinary, material, rationally predictable world in which we live. As a literary genre, modern fantasy is clearly related to the magical stories of myth, legend, fairy tale, and folklore from all over the world.” All surviving ancient fiction (for example from ancient Greece, Rome or Egypt) is essentially fantasy. During the Renaissance (beginning in Italy in the 1500s) people began to question previous under-standings of the world around them.

During and after the Renaissance, ‘realism’ became more important for authors, and ‘fantasy’ then became its own genre. Fantasy does not require logic to explain the startling actions or twists of character and plot. Fantasy is free to depart from ‘realism’. Philosophical Unrealistic Imaginative Archetypal Intellectual Magic Supernatural Mythology Folklore ‘Modern’ fantasy gained massive popularity after the publication of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy in 1954. These books also led to ‘medieval’ features becoming a major part of fantasy writing. Fantasy is amongst the most popular of all the literary genres... Harry Potter series: 450 million copies sold The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: 85 million copies sold The Hobbit: Discworld series:
55 million copies sold A Song of Fire and Ice series:
15 million copies sold Wheel of Time series: 44 million copies sold His Dark Materials trilogy: 15 million copies sold The Inheritance series: 25 million copies sold Artemis Fowl:
20 million copies sold The Lord of the Rings trilogy:
150 million copies sold 100 million copies sold A Brief History of Fantasy... 3000 BCE - 400 CE The earliest piece of recorded written English (the poem 'Beowulf') is a fantasy story about a mighty hero who fights monsters. 600 CE 1500-1700 CE 1954 CE 'The Hobbit' is first published in 1937, and its first print run is sold out within two months.

It was written by J.R.R. Tolkien, a Medievalist scholar who taught at Oxford University.

He began writing the story when he got bored marking his students' essays, and doodled the words 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit' on a scrap of paper. It went on to become one of the most popular books of all time. 1937 CE 1997 - 2007 CE The 'Harry Potter' series of novels become the best-selling franchise of all time, selling over 450 million copies across the 7 books and spawning a franchise that has generated over $15 billion. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - the best selling of all the Harry Potter books - has sold 44 million copies. What words come to your mind when you think of 'FANTASY'? Brainstorm as many terms as you can. Fantasy is an example of a GENRE A 'Genre' is like a category. Books within the same genre will usually have features in common (aspects of their plot, setting, characters, etc). These common features are called CONVENTIONS. What books, films, or TV shows jump to your mind when you think of 'fantasy'? What other genres of fiction have you heard of? An example of a convention of the fantasy genre is 'MAGIC':
a power that influences the fictional world which cannot be explained through conventional science. Remember: a CONVENTION is a feature which most works within a genre will share. Most fantasy books will include some form of magic. Can you think of any other 'conventions'? List one convention for each genre you listed above. Genres exist so that we can easily identify stories and know, in general terms, what to expect.

Not every book within a genre will use all of the conventions associated with that genre, and plenty of books have successfully broken the conventions of their genre.

However, conventions are still useful to use when discussing a genre. Which genre do each of the following conventions make you think of: ...a dark night... ...an abandoned house... ...bats and wolves... ...a monster... HORROR ...a detective... ...a blood-spattered knife... ...a dingy, inner-city neighborhood... CRIME ...spaceships... ...futuristic setting... ...advanced technology... SCIENCE FICTION Let's return to fantasy. What sets fantasy apart from other genres? What makes it unique? Think back to the examples you listed and the terms you brainstormed earlier... Can you come up with your own definition of 'FANTASY'? 'Magic' and other elements of fantasy were everywhere in Medieval Europe: natural phenomena could be explained as being either 'white magic' (i.e. miracles performed by God) or 'black magic' (i.e. people invoking the power of the devil). Witchcraft and magical creatures were accepted as parts of the real world.

Therefore, 'fantasy' and 'literature' remained inseparable during this period. 900-1400 CE
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