History of the Fantasy Novel

Course information


History of the Fantasy Novel


Daniel Nyikos

Course code








Course description

Short description

For many readers, the recent success of George R. R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire has seemed like a big change from the standard narrative in fantasy literature, one established by J. R. R. Tolkien and his many successors, present in everything from Dungeons & Dragons to video games. A closer look at the history of the fantasy novel, however, reveals a rich and constantly-evolving narrative mode, one which the novel has a conversation with the texts that came before it as well as engaging with contemporary issues. In this course, we will follow the evolution of the modern fantasy novel from its earliest roots in fairy tales for adults through the world wars and the counter-cultural revolutions of the 1960’s, constantly questioning what we see as the limits and perspectives of the field. To accommodate student interest and facilitate discussion, we will choose four of the following novels to read, selecting two from before the advent of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth and two after. We will also discuss the possible subdivisions of the fantasy novel, such as epic fantasy, heroic fantasy, and dark fantasy.



February 10: Introduction, what is fantasy?, introduction to the possible books

February 17: Book selection, overview of the history of fantasy

February 24: First book: discussion of the first third

March 10: First book: second third

March 17 First book: finish

March 24 Second book: first third

March 31 Second book: second third

April 7 Second book: finish

April 14 Third book: first third

April 21 spring break, no class!

April 28 Third book: finish

May 5 Fourth book: first third

May 12 Fourth book: second third

May 19 Fourth book: finish, final discussion



Fall 2018


Requirements to get the grade

seminar paper 40%, reading journals 35%, class participation 25%

Reading list

Possible readings: (Recommended texts are bolded)


Phantastes by George MacDonald (1858)

The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris (1894)

The Worm Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison (1922)

The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany (1924)

The Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard (1935)


Titus Groan by Mervyn Peak (1947)


Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock (1965)

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin (1968)

Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber (1970)

The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks (1977)

Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson (1977)

The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolf (1980)

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (1982)

Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (1984)

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan (1990)

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (1996)

Suggested reading list