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Fantasy (from English fantasy " phantasy ") is a genre of fantasy whose roots can be found in mythology and legends . Like the neighboring genres of science fiction and horror fantasy finds its most important manifestations in literature and film , as well as well as in music and visual arts , in the field of board games , computer games and pen - & - paper programs and live role playing .

The dragon, an archetype of fantasy


As a modern sub-genre of fantasy , fantasy places supernatural , fairytale and magical elements in the foreground. She often uses the motifs of old myths , folk tales or legends . Legendary figures such as dwarfs or magicians appear, but also specially invented beings or anthropomorphic (human-like) animals. Often the plot is relocated to a fictional world that is clearly different from earthly reality. The fictional is considered real within the imaginary background.



A fictional world usually serves as the background for the fantasy story, but its social structures are mostly based on historical epochs. It is especially popular, the European Middle Ages , and Iron Ages and Renaissance can serve as a template. Technically and culturally, the fantastic world is almost always at a level that seems backward to archaic by today's standards. Occasionally this is expanded into a dualism in which a decadent civilization and a noble but barbaric culture face each other.

The political order of a fantasy world is mostly similar to feudalism . It is no coincidence that this is an association of persons in which the special relationships between individuals bring about social cohesion. This is different from the modern understanding of the state, according to which the citizens are direct actors of the state. The positive achievement of modern government, namely relative equality, is seldom noticed or addressed in fantasy literature. This often brings fantasy in its narrative attitude close to the historical novel .

The religions of the fantasy world are partly polytheistic , partly monotheistic , with competing religious communities often facing each other. Religion is often understood not only mythically but also magically (according to Jean Piaget ): Individual people are able to intervene in the physical laws of the world. This happens either through magical powers (magicians) or with divine help (priests). Ordinary individuals are also involved in this higher order. The classic fantasy world thus shows a unity of politics and religion, which corresponds to an idealized form of the medieval order.

The cultures of a fantasy world are mostly based on earthly peoples, with ancient, medieval and modern elements being mixed in a colorful way. It is noticeable that the peoples mostly represent idealized communities that gather behind outstanding personalities such as kings, generals or tribal leaders. Conflicts between social groups are mostly neglected, greatly simplified or carried out between individuals. This is sometimes reminiscent of historicist historiography and its patterns of interpretation.

Races and peoples

As a rule, the fantasy world is inhabited by humans. In addition, there may be other peoples, many of which appear across all works. The fantasy peoples defined by JRR Tolkien , dwarfs , elves and orcs , which appear under the term "races", are particularly popular . They are based on models from fairy , elf , dragon and goblin legends , as well as the myth of old religions, but have stereotypical features and peculiarities that were only defined by fantasy: Dwarves are a small people, live among them Earth, have a full beard, are masterful ax and hammer fighters, blacksmiths and revelers. Elves are immortal or at least long-lived beings who are morally and culturally superior to people, sometimes as a forest people close to nature, sometimes as high civilization that creates culture. Orcs are ugly, aggressive beings who go for war and plunder. Goblins are small, shrewd goblins who are cowardly but numerous. Furthermore, undead such as animated skeletons, zombies and vampires , beastmen such as centaurs , minotaurs , satyrs , lizards and insects and halflings appear in many novels. In addition, beings created by the author, or forms modified or combined by him, can also appear.

In fantasy jargon, the term “race” is used much more freely than is otherwise the case. On the one hand, this is due to the fact that it is a direct transmission from English. On the other hand, according to biological definition, there is often a race-based relationship between the individual peoples, since they can also produce fertile offspring with one another . Occasionally, half-elves appear as descendants of humans and the Elf. Which “races” can produce offspring from one another, however, can vary from plant to plant.

The representation of races and peoples often shows racist and biological tendencies. The orcs are usually portrayed as evil, devious and degenerate, with their aggressiveness and lust for murder being innate. Other races are presented less negatively, but by no means more differentiated. More recent works of fantasy have at least partially weakened this tendency.

Motives and narrative structures

Fantasy often draws on tried and tested motifs from adventure literature: sword fights and monster encounters, trips to exotic places, epochal battles, court intrigues and the fight against a powerful opponent who can clearly be attributed to evil. The quest serves as a classic narrative structure , whereby influences from films, computer and role-playing games can now also be recognized. The story arc is mostly epic and involves the whole world in the events. Influences of the educational novel , development novel or boarding novel are often noticeable when the main character first has to undergo training as a magician, warrior or nobleman before the actual plot begins.

In the center of the narrative there is often a single hero together with one or more companions, on whose actions the fate of the fictional setting depends. The heroes are often extremely powerful and far superior to other comparable people, or they develop by leaps and bounds from a "good-for-nothing" to such a superior hero.

Like every genre, fantasy has developed its own stereotypes and clichés . The game industry in particular has formalized the genre through games such as Dungeons and Dragons , Warhammer , Magic: The Gathering or, especially in the German-speaking world, Das Schwarze Auge . Plot elements are used over and over again to make it easier for readers to get started and to provide them with what has proven itself.


The fight against supernatural beings and monsters - an old literary topos


Fantasy draws its motifs and narrative structures from the ancient literary form of legends and heroic epics , in which earlier cultures recorded the stories of their gods, demigods and heroes, such as Homer's Iliad , the Nibelungenlied or the saga about King Arthur . Modern fantasy often takes up these legends directly, retells them or adapts their plot.

One of the first examples of exploiting as many of these possibilities as possible was the Orlando furioso by Ludovico Ariosto, first printed in 1516 in Ferrara with 40 songs in verse form . This medieval bestseller is the continuation of the unfinished Orlando innamorato by Matteo Maria Boiardo .

Central European enthusiasm for prehistoric epics began in the second half of the 18th century and was reflected in the chants of the fictional bard Ossian .

Development of the fantastic in the 19th century

The early Romantic period was marked by a philosophically motivated enthusiasm for supernatural worlds were created folktale collections , literary fairy tales and educational novels with fantastic components, often in medieval settings , also for the high fantasy are very typical. Authors such as Novalis ( Heinrich von Ofterdingen ), Ludwig Tieck ( Die Elfen ) and Friedrich de la Motte-Fouqué ( Undine ) anticipated essential elements of fantasy literature in terms of structure and content. The mixing of the literary genres deserves particular emphasis - a central requirement of romantic universal poetry . Novalis' novel fragment Heinrich von Ofterdingen , for example, is interspersed with poems and fairy tales of various kinds, which later played an equally central role in the work of JRR Tolkien .

In the late Romantic period , authors such as ETA Hoffmann and Edgar Allan Poe increasingly began to incorporate supernatural elements into their novels and stories. This new literary trend of fantasy proved to be a sales force on the emerging book market, with horror and adventure novels such as the works of Sir Walter Scott being particularly successful. Also important is the poet and composer Richard Wagner , who significantly influenced fantasy with his monumental stage dramas based on Nordic mythology ( The Ring of the Nibelung ).

The beginnings of science fiction , which is still closely related to fantasy in terms of topic , albeit not in terms of content , can also be found in this period. Today's fantasy would be unthinkable without the preparatory work of Jules Verne , Erckmann-Chatrian , Herbert George Wells , Lord Dunsany , Mary Shelley ( Frankenstein ), Bram Stoker ( Dracula ), Robert Louis Stevenson ( The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ), George MacDonald (day boy and night maid) , Mark Twain ( A Yankee at the court of King Arthur ) and Oscar Wilde ( The Portrait of Dorian Gray ).

Origin in the 20th century

Fantasy emerged as a separate literary genre in the 20th century. JRR Tolkien ( The Lord of the Rings ) is often named as its founder , who triggered a real boom with his works, especially in the late 1960s, and is cited as a role model by many authors . ER Eddison ( The Worm Ouroboros ), Fritz Leiber ( Fafhrd and the Gray Mouse ), CS Lewis ( The Chronicles of Narnia ) and the American pulp author Robert E. Howard , whose stories about Conan den, are considered to be further "ancestors" of fantasy Barbarians are as controversial as they are famous.

After the first Tolkien boom in the 1960s, numerous other authors shaped the genre, often based on Tolkien, such as Marion Zimmer Bradley and Stephen R. Donaldson in the 1970s, Terry Brooks and Raymond Feist in the 1980s. The emergence of fantasy role-playing games in the 1970s was significantly influenced by fantasy literature, which conversely also increased interest in the written works. In the 1980s and 1990s , new subgenres such as urban fantasy or humorous fantasy developed parallel to the classic high fantasy , which was carried on by authors such as Tad Williams , Robert Jordan and Robin Hobb .

Fantasy motifs on tractor

Development in the 21st Century

At the beginning of the new century, fantasy experienced a new upswing in both literature and film. The trigger is in particular the success of the Harry Potter books and films, as well as the Lord of the Rings film adaptations . The remakes of the Chronicles of Narnia or the book series Percy Jackson and Eragon also contributed to the fantasy wave of the 2000s, some of which continues to this day. Sub- genres also became popular, for example dark fantasy . In the currently prevailing high fantasy , there is a development towards a more complex treatment of fantasy motifs, for example by renouncing genre conventions. The pioneers of this modern high fantasy are George RR Martin , Steven Erikson and JV Jones .

Discourses of Fantasy

Overlapping with other genres

In fantasy there are many motifs from other subgenres of fantasy, such as science fiction and horror literature . Many authors and publishers are active in several genres at the same time, so that there is an overlap in terms of personnel and content and a clear distinction is difficult. Hybrid forms such as Star Wars , which enrich a science fiction backdrop with fantasy motifs, or the Cthulhu myth , in which science fiction, horror and fantasy merge, are not uncommon.

Literary evaluation

Fantasy is often viewed as pure entertainment and trivial literature , as fantasy literature mostly appeared in pulp magazines at the time of its creation and was aimed at an appropriate audience. Fantasy is usually assigned to pop culture after the cultural evaluation categories “ high ” and “ pop culture ”. The blurring of the boundaries between "entertaining" and "serious" literature does not stop at fantasy either. Fantasy motifs can be found in contemporary novels and films, and literary studies are also increasingly taking on fantasy.

Marketing and series character

Despite the increasing acceptance, fantasy is usually still marketed as genre literature. Cover design, advertising and the form of publication ( paperback ) are based on the supposed or actual taste of fantasy readers whose interest is to be maintained through the publication of series . This inevitably leads to a repetition of elements typical of the genre, which makes further development of the genre difficult. For example, works that critically consider insignificant in terms of content can repeatedly achieve commercial success simply by using classical themes, while novels that are viewed as more demanding or more unusual have a significantly more difficult time asserting themselves.


Fantasy is assumed to have a tendency towards escapism , because it mostly represents a medieval, simplistic structured society and thus fades out or suppresses the social, political or cultural realities and problems of our time . This accusation applies to many works, but fails to mention the fact that early fantasy literature already used its fictional background to discuss philosophical questions or to point out social problems, such as the King Arthur book series by TH White . Contemporary fantasy also repeatedly takes up current issues (war, nationalism, religious extremism).

J. R. R. Tolkien, in his 1937 essay On Fairy Stories, describes escapism as an integral part of fantasy. According to this, the functions of a fantasy story always consist of firstly awakening the imagination (“Fantasy”), secondly enabling the readers to recover (“Recovery”), thirdly providing opportunities for escape (“Escape”) and fourthly providing consolation (“Consolation”) . While the imagination is, so to speak, the ticket to the fantastic worlds, Tolkien understands the restoration as a "regaining a clear view" and the taking of a new perspective. When it comes to the concept of escape, Tolkien distinguishes between two variants, which he characterizes as the escape of the deserter and the escape of the prisoner. The former is just a coward who wants to run away. But prisoners cannot be blamed for wanting to flee. Your flight is more resistance than just running away. Thus, Tolkien understands the escape that the fantasy genre offers as an opportunity to fulfill longings and satisfactions that the real world cannot offer. For him, one of the important functions of fantasy is the return to the state of enchantment anchored in myth and mythical thought.

Racism, Sexism, and Reaction

Another reproach to fantasy is the reactionary , simplistic worldview of many novels, which contains the idea of ​​authority against feudal structures, a conservative design of gender roles and the overemphasis on the differences between peoples or "races". Although this blanket criticism can be refuted by countless counterexamples, one cannot deny a certain ambivalence of fantasy in these areas of tension, which is mainly due to the pulp past of the genre. Modern and sometimes old fantasy does not ignore these questions, but on the contrary mostly deals with them in a very complex way.


Fantasy literature can be divided into the following subgroups that cannot be strictly separated from one another; some works also show characteristics of several subgenres:

Fantasy outside of literature


Cinema and television have also turned to the genre several times, albeit less often than science fiction . Apart from the early fairy tale films , some fantasy films from Walt Disney, such as The Secret of the Cursed Cave (1959) and a first cartoon version of the cult novel of the same name, The Lord of the Rings (USA, 1978), real fantasy material was only picked up from the 1980s . At that time, classic films such as Excalibur (USA / GB, 1981), Clash of the Titans (GB, 1981), The Dragon Slayer (USA, 1981), The Dark Crystal (USA / GB, 1982), Legend (GB, 1985) and The Journey were made into the labyrinth (GB / USA, 1986). It is noticeable that none of the successful fantasy novels was made into a film; After the Bakshi film, which was unsuccessful at the box office, the Lord of the Rings was regarded as too difficult material, other novels evidently as too poor a template. The only exception was a film adaptation of the novel The Neverending Story (D / USA, 1984) by Michael Ende . With the film Willow (USA, 1988), producer George Lucas tried to repeat his science fiction success with Star Wars (USA, 1977) in the fantasy area, which he was denied.

Even in the 1990s, real fantasy films were rare; Dragonheart (USA, 1996) had greater success . Instead, television discovered the genre for itself and created several fantasy series, such as Robin Hood (GB, 1984–1986), Hercules (USA / NZ, 1995–1999), Xena (USA / NZ, 1995–2001) and Charmed - The Magical Witches (USA, 1998-2006).

In the 2000s, director Peter Jackson finally dared to make the film (NZ / USA, 2001) of The Lord of the Rings and reaped a great success at the box office with the film trilogy. Together with the also successful Harry Potter films, he created a basis for further filming plans. This is how Cornelia Funke's ink heart and the Narnia series by CS Lewis found their way onto the screen.


As a result of the success of the Game of Thrones series (2011-2019), numerous fantasy series were announced that will appear gradually from the end of Game of Thrones . In 2019, for example, the series The Witcher , His Dark Materials , Carnival Row and The Dark Crystal: Era of Resistance will start .

Board and role playing games

Fantasy served as the background for numerous board games , game books and above all role-playing games ( pen & paper role-playing games and live role-playing games ). In the course of the wave of role-playing games - triggered by the market leader Dungeons and Dragons ( D&D ) in the 1980s and 1990s - there were interactions with fantasy literature; some authors found fantasy literature through role play and vice versa. In addition, some role-playing games were processed literarily, so that the Drachenlanze novels by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman or the Forgotten Realms series by RA Salvatore were created. Fantasy playbooks , which are regarded as the forerunners of the text adventure , became particularly important ; were known among other Lone Wolf by Joe Dever and the Fighting Fantasy series from Steve Jackson .

In the late 1990s, the fantasy theme penetrated other play areas. Above all, the trading card game Magic: The Gathering celebrated success, pulled some players away from the classic role-playing game and at the same time opened up this genre to other people who had previously had no access to fantasy. After the new fantasy wave in the wake of the Tolkien film adaptation in the 2000s, live role-playing games and the classic pen & paper role-playing game became more socially acceptable , but sales by role-playing game publishers have been falling for years.

Video games

Fantasy motifs have always been used in the field of video games, just as all fantastic genres have found their way into computer game culture. From early text adventures such as Guild of Thieves from Magnetic Scrolls to early role-play implementations such as Ultima from Origin , fantasy materials were repeatedly taken up. With the quest , which is typical for computer games , an archetypal narrative structure was created , which later found its way back into fantasy literature.

In the 1980s, several famous fantasy computer games were created, such as The Legend of Zelda , Final Fantasy , Phantasy Star , Dungeon Master , the aforementioned Ultima or The Bard's Tale , some of which are continued to this day. In the 1990s, D&D role-playing games (such as Champions of Krynn or Eye of the Beholder ), the fantasy parody Simon the Sorcerer , the role-playing game Lands of Lore , the adventure Erben der Erde or the Nordland trilogy were implemented in the 1990s as well as the strategy game Dungeon Keeper better known. In the 2000s, ever more sophisticated graphics and higher computing power of computers enabled ever more detailed worlds, so that today's computer games reach an unbelievable extent. Milestones are the games Diablo and Dungeon Siege , the strategy game Warcraft and the role-playing games World of Warcraft , Baldur's Gate , Neverwinter Nights , Gothic , The Elder Scrolls , Sacred , Dark Age of Camelot and Fable . The film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series also led to implementations in the field of computer games, as can be observed in an ever closer interlinking of literature, cinema and computer games. For example, the fantasy game Dungeon Siege by director Uwe Boll was filmed in 2007 as Swords of the King - Dungeon Siege .


The Fantasy discotheque in Munich (1981-2001) played only heavy metal

With filk own style of music and culture, whose songs stories exist from and about fantasy and science fiction tell -literature and media. Fantasy can also be found in progressive rock and especially in heavy metal . Although the term Fantasy Metal does exist, it is rarely used, as fantasy themes can be found in almost all styles of metal, especially power and epic metal . Record covers with fantasy motifs are also very popular for metal albums . These are often even used on albums and bands that otherwise don't deal with fantasy topics. As bands with a partly strong folk influence especially Summoning , Ensiferum , Blind Guardian , Rhapsody of Fire and Manowar are to be mentioned. Even symphonic metal -Bands as Nightwish or Within Temptation and Xandria or the singer Tarja use in their songs fantasy elements.


In Western culture, modern fantasy painting has its forerunners in the ancient and medieval bestiaries and in the work of Hieronymus Bosch (1460–1516). Many of the pictorial themes he portrayed - such as varied human representations in connection with fauna and flora, animated objects and playful forms - recurred thematically in fantasy art of the late 20th century. There are monsters and impossible structures, bizarre landscapes and a feeling of the unreal evoked in the viewer, which often falls back on stylistic elements of surrealism and magical realism .

The painter Johann Heinrich Füssli and his successor William Blake turned in a revolutionary way to fantastic, mythological and grotesque subjects in the 18th century , and are still inspiring today for fantasy and gothic painting. This type of painting experienced its first great bloom in the Victorian era, as a large number of fictional stories, often in the form of the chivalric novel popular since the Romantic period , a revival of the medieval court novel , combined with more advanced painting and printing techniques to create a wave of illustrated books for the population of English-speaking countries.

Important fantasy painters are Luis Royo , Frank Frazetta , Boris Vallejo , Roger Dean , Patrick Woodroffe , Alan Lee , John Howe , Ted Nasmith , Chris Foss and the brothers Greg and Tim Hildebrandt .

See also

Portal: Phantastik  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the topic of fantasy


  • Sylvia Englert : Writing and publishing fantasy. Creating fantastic worlds and characters , Authors House Publishing 2015, ISBN 978-3-86671-127-3
  • Marco Prestel: Wonderful confusion. An introduction to the theory of fantastic children's and youth literature and the poetics of fantasy. In: Children's literary myths translation. For the construction of fantastic worlds with Tove Jansson, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. Ed. V. Gunda Mairbäurl, Ingrid Tomkowiak, Ernst Seibert u. Klaus Müller-Wille. Praesens Verlag, Vienna 2013, ISBN 978-3-7069-0717-0 , pp. 25–54.
  • Ulf Abraham : Fantastic in literature and film. An introduction for schools and universities . Berlin 2012.
  • Michael Peinkofer : The Wizard's Handbook: Write your own fantasy novel , Piper Verlag 2012, ISBN 978-3-492-26791-5
  • Mark Achilles: Fantasy Fiction - the search for the true human being in ›Harry Potter‹ and ›The Lord of the Rings‹. In: Thomas Bohrmann, Werner Veith, Stephan Zöller (Eds.): Handbuch Theologie und Popular Film. Volume 1, ISBN 978-3-506-72963-7 , Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 2007, pp. 95-113.
  • Hans Joachim Alpers , Ronald M. Hahn , Jörg Martin Munsonius , Hermann Urbanek , Werner Fuchs (Hrsg.): Lexikon der Fantasyliteratur. ISBN 3-89064-566-6 , Fantasy Productions, Erkrath 2005.
  • Wolfgang Biesterfeld: Utopia, Science Fiction, Fantasticism, Fantasy and Fantastic Children's and Youth Literature: Suggestions for Definition. In: Literary and didactic aspects of a fantastic children's and youth literature. Ed. V. Günter Lange u. Wilhelm Steffens. Würzburg 1993, pp. 71-80.
  • Maren Bonacker: Escapism, filth and trash? Fantasy as particularly controversial fantastic literature. In: Contributions to youth literature and the media. 17 (58th year), supplement: Magic Land and Ink World: Fantastik in Kinder- und Jugendliteratur , 2006, pp. 64–70.
  • Hans-Heino Ewers: Considerations on the poetics of fantasy. In: Perspectives on child and youth media research. Ed. V. Ingrid Tomkowiak. Zurich 2011, pp. 131–149.
  • Hans-Edwin Friedrich: What is Fantasy? Concept - history - trends. In: 1000 and 1 book. H. 1, 2004, 4-8.
  • Frederik Hetmann : The joys of fantasy. From Tolkien to the end. ISBN 978-3-548-36506-0 , Ullstein Taschenbuchverlag, Berlin 1988.
  • Helmut W. Pesch : Fantasy - Theory and History. Theory and history of a literary genre. Dissertation, University of Cologne 1981. Also: ISBN 978-3-932621-45-1 , First German Fantasy Club eV, Passau 2001. Download: ( PDF; 2.3 MB ).
  • Brigid Peppin: Fantasy. Book illustration 1860 - 1920 . Studio Vista, London 1975 (English).
  • JRR Tolkien : About fairy tales. In: ders .: Good dragons are rare. Three essays. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1983, ISBN 3-608-95278-0 , pp. 51-140.
  • Frank Weinreich : Fantasy. Introduction. Oldib Verlag, Essen 2007, ISBN 978-3-939556-03-9 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Fantasy  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations