The Grandfathers of Fantasy
by L.A. Solinas
Page 1 of 1
The widespread appeal of fantasy was first sparked off by J.R.R. Tolkien's
Lord of the Rings trilogy. Though a great number of people hailed Lord of the
Rings as the first true fantasy, there were also a number of fantasy authors in
the 19th and earlier 20th century. Perhaps three of the most prominent were
Lord Dunsany, George MacDonald, and William Morris, who specialized in all
forms, from self-created legends to more inward-thought fantasy.
George MacDonald's Christian background was displayed in his fantasy works. His
children's books such as the Princess duology and At the Back of the North Wind
display his moral beliefs to a certain degree, and his adult works display
more. Intriguingly, the children's books have semi-angelic characters and moral
dilemmas concerning the loss of life. On the other hand, his adult books are
more obvious, referring to Biblical persons and theological themes.
With a certain amount of similarity to C.S. Lewis, MacDonald interwove
Christian doctrine and mythos into his plots, making them true "Christian
fantasy." For example, in Lilith, the lead character encounters "... Adam, the
old and the new man... his wife, ministering in the house of the dead, was Eve,
the mother of us all, the lady of the New Jerusalem." Such plot twists
illustrate MacDonald's devotion to his beliefs.
A very different tone was taken in the works of Lord Dunsany, whose works
ranged from contemporary short stories to the pseudo-myth novel The Gods of
Pegana. Eastern and Indian undertones were in many of his fantasies, with their
exotic descriptions of "the great pools in many gardened, beautiful Istrakhan
where the lilies float that give delectable dreams". Some were more
conventionally British, such as Miss Cubbidge and the Dragon of Romance and
However, a sense of almost spiritual otherwordliness permeates his stories,
novels, plays and poetry. Dunsany's works often include the clash of mortals
and a powerful pantheon of gods whom he created expressly for his stories, in a
manner reminiscent of some mythical gods and heroes of ancient times. As a
result, his works are quite different from Tolkien, Lewis and MacDonald.
William Morris's fantasies were quite different in their execution from either
MacDonald or Dunsany. Rather than ethereal mysticism or intertwined Christian
mythos, Morris employed a heavily formal style. Additionally, while they did
not have the flowing descriptiveness of Dunsany's prose, they retained a very
mythic quality. This quality was closer to that of the legends of King Arthur
and his knights, rather than that of exotic deities.
Often Morris's quests are less for slaying dragons and rescuing helpless
maidens, as quests for semi-supernatural objects. His main characters often
seek such things as "the Land where the days are many: so many that he who
hath forgotten how to laugh, may learn the craft again, and forget the days of
Sorrow." The magic of these tales is often restrained, the characters genuinely
Fantasy first became known and beloved by the masses in the form of Lord of the
Rings. The effects are still present day in the form of epic fantasies and
science fiction. However, the influence of these early fantasy writers cannot
and should not be denied. If Tolkien was the father of modern fantasy, these
three were the grandfathers of modern fantasy.
You can email L.A. Solinas at email@example.com.
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 L.A. Solinas, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.