Leo Elijah Cristea has traced the roots of fantasy fiction, the “Grandfathers of Fantasy” as he calls them, in a brilliant essay at Fantasy Faction. In a single post, he gathers up everything from mythology to faery tales to Poe and Lovecraft and Tolkien and Eddings, showing how they all relate to one another in a vast fantastical “tree of life.” One of my favorite sections:
The ancestor of fantasy is mythology; fantasy’s great-uncle, thrice-removed, is the art of faerie tale; but fantasy’s true grandparents are the fantasists who crafted dreams, speculative realities, and visions of distant worlds, whether by means of the gothic, the early fantastic, or uncanny commentary on the future. Fantasy’s grandparents are far, far older than Tolkien, Eddings, Brooks, or Martin.
Due to our unswervingly human need to label, there are more subgenres of fantasy than you could shake a whole forest of ancient oaken sticks at. Helpfully, our predecessors were quite happy to call anything that didn’t mimic whole reality, fantasy. They were right, too. Anything that doesn’t fit into the neat little frame, within which the finite possibilities of our world sit, is left out, branded fantasy. Of course (and this won’t be the first time I’ve flirted with the admission of stating that I believe in what should probably not be believed in) the small grey areas outside of this accepted, built and well-maintained frame are what fuel a fantasist’s speculation—or at least, that’s how it used to be.
Imagine living and writing in the times of Mary Shelley, or Poe, or John Polidori and his Vampyre, imagine not having all the facts staring at you, and imagine not seeing the world broadcast at you on the news every day. Imagine the itch to write, to learn, to dream, to explore—to speculate.
This is where fantasy proper first appeared.
It’s well worth the time to read it all.