As Fanny Howe reminds us, the fairy tale is a form in which, like Midas’ golden touch, a simple wish conjures up a reality that was all along potential. Not better, just possible.

Emily Carr, Fairy Tale Review

David Beagley, LaTrobe University, available on iTunes U

  • Fantasy is the biggest area in children’s literature, and close to being the biggest area in adult literature too, eclipsed only by crime.
  • This didn’t start with Harry Potter, though the popularity of that series has given it a huge kick along recently. Since there there has been A Series Of Unfortunate Events, Artemis Fowl, Dark Materials, Eragon, all of these big, best-selling series just in the last 15 years, every since HP revolutionised the world of publishing.
  • Twilight is now challenging Harry Potter in the amount of marketing that is being done, from movies to pale make-up for teenage boys.
  • With movies such as Red Riding Hood, fairytales are now being returned to adults.

  • But fantasy is far from new. Works such as Peter Pan have been around forever. Fantasy has always been here and is here to stay.

Reading Material

  • Refer to Literature And The Child for a good basic book on children’s literature, by Lee Galda and Bernice E. Cullinan
  • For an Australian focus refer to Maurice Saxby: Books In The Life Of A Child (1997) and Give Them Wings have some very good explanations of fairytales and fantasy as a genre written by different people and gathered by Saxby.
  • Fantasy is very clear on morality. Fantasy goes for extremes rather than shades of grey. Villains are very villainous, heroes are very good and heroic.
  • Refer also to the work of Natalie Babbitt  (1987) Fantasy and the Classic Hero, in Innocence and experience: essays and conversations on children’s literature, ed. Barbara Harrison & Gregory Maguire. Boston: Lothrop, Lea and Shepard

Primary and Secondary Worlds (The Perilous Realm)

  • If we call where we are now the ‘primary world’, a parallel/secondary world may be influenced by the primary world but it is different in some way. The earliest use of the word fairy comes from 1393 from a writer called Andrew Gaury (sp?). Tolkien pointed this out as a mistranslation — it was supposed to be ‘of fairy’ not ‘a fairy’ and reflects a prejudice about fantasy and the fairy world. Fairy is a place. Fairy is the world of Rip Van Winkle, about a man who out in the woods meets some people, has a party and wakes up to what he thinks is the next day but is actually 20 years later. The secondary world is not inferior to the primary world. Another term used is the ‘perilous realm’. This is a world of danger and darkness, of the forest, through which Red Riding Hood walks. In the Twilight Series it’s the world Bella discovers, of vampires and werewolves.
  • Hollow Lands is about how children are taken off to a place to grow up differently. Fantasy is a dangerous, threatening place that ‘takes’. It is not just an escape into something, though it can be. It can be the world of little toys in Winnie The Pooh (as in Toy Story). These stories are humorous but they are also sad — the loss of childhood.
  • How do secondary worlds operate? (PM = primary world. SW = secondary world.)
  • One option: PM and SW are totally separate. (Rowan of Rin.)
  • Another option: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It is not here. Completely separate from this world. (The Hobbit, Eragon, The Wizard of Earthsea, Deltora). Even in the derivative worlds such as the steampunk ones, ‘This is what the world would be like if we did not have things like electricity, computers, nuclear power, in which computers are made out of wood with brass keys.) What happens when the two worlds get closer together? It’s possible to move from one world to another through a portal. (Narnia, Magic Faraway Tree, Magic Wishing Chair, Alice In Wonderland, Oz, Monsters Inc)
  • [RELATED: 10 KEY TERMS THAT WILL HELP YOU APPRECIATE FANTASY LITERATURE from io9]
  • A third world: Characters can cause things to happen in each other’s world. Although they occupy the same place they are kept separate. (Harry Potter, Peter Pan.) There is overlap but they are still largely separate.
  • Fourth way: Worlds are the same world: We are completely oblivious to whatever’s happening under our very noses. (Toy Story is a classic one, Indian In The Cupboard, The Borrowers, Mrs Frisby And The Rats Of Nimh — Nimh is a real mental health organisation)

  • The key element in all those four kinds of secondary worlds is imagination, creating an image, an image of things which are not actually present. So the author and the reader are both creators of these worlds. Imagination is the key to all human understanding. All our learning is extending into the unknown. At some stage everything we learn must be a leap of faith into the unknown. As Lao Tsu put it: The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. Even as scientists, as rational observers, we must for a moment think what could, what might, what if. And that’s when we start taking those steps. We must dream the future, then step into that world. So the experimental scientist is no different from the author writing a story and just wondering, or the person daydreaming about what could be. When we dream of these future truths, while they don’t exist now except as fantasies, we aim to create them as realities. We explore the boundary between the knowledge we have and the possibilities we have.
  • If we accept only that which we see, we go nowhere. We need to have someone taking us into the unknown. That which can be measured and organised is limited to what the human can see now. Imagination, on the other hand, takes us past the probable (though we can predict things based on what we’ve already seen) and into the unknown.
  • Fantasy stories use our imagination to understand what is happening here in reality. The term ‘speculative fiction’ is used to describe stories that consider what is not… yet. This enables exploration of great, broad concepts.
  • Cosmology vs Cosmographycosmology is the whole universe and cosmography is how it’s created/written down.
  • Tolkien is a master of cosmography. He had a real talent for languages and started inventing them as a teenager. During the first world war he created languages as a means to keep himself sane during battle. Tolkien’s languages are studied by academics today. Then he started wondering who would speak these languages, so he created fictional characters and the rules of their society. Lord of the Rings came from this thought experiment.
  • 100 years ago relativity in physics would have been seen as a fantasy story as in fantastic as in ‘non-existent’. Tolkien argued that fantasy worlds exist because we can’t prove otherwise.
  • Fantasy stories are usually asking ‘what if’? What if animals could talk? What if children could fly? What if toys could come alive? What if you could travel across the galaxy and turn left? What if you could become invisible? What could happen? What if magic was a human skill?
  • Types of fantasy stories stem from the what if question: Wish fulfilment (Harry Potter – what if I could escape from this horrible world from being at the bottom of the heap to the top?), Time travel stories (Madeline L’engle), Anthropomorphic Stories (animals operate as humans — Peter Rabbit), Utopia (the perfect world — Gulliver’s Travels is one of the earliest one), Dystopia (the horrible world — Z for Zachariah, The Lake At The End Of The World — particularly stories that happen after a nuclear holocaust).