A chronological overview of fantasy literature focusing on the years from 1900 to the present day (2010), with chapters dedicated to specific decades and also to Tolkein and CS Lewis, and to the trinity of Terry Pratchett, JK Rowling and Philip Pullman.
A Short History of Fantasy is, like the ninth Doctor might have said himself “fantastic”. Both pacy and comprehensive, the book outlines fantasy in its various forms and contextualises speculative writings in several ways. There’s a useful chronology of important works in book, film and TV form, a handy glossary, and most of all a sense of fun and involvement with the genre. You’ll come away with an extensive must-read list, you’ll award yourself some brownie points for knowing more than you though you did, and you’ll find yourself arguing for the inclusion in this survey of personal favourites of your own (Gore Vidal’s A Search for the King, for me).
Mendelsohn and James also introduce conceptualisations of fantasy explored at greater length in Mendlesohn's earlier work Rhetorics of Fantasy. Like one of the fantasy variants she defines/outlines/suggests, this book will act as a portal (for Mendlesohn and James, a portal fantasy is where “the fantasy world is reached through a gateway [and] involve exploring the new world and solving its problems or fulfilling some quest”) into the fantastic, a jumping-out point from which to explore the genre in more depth. Recommended.
Mendelsohn, Farah and Edward James. 2009. A Short History of Fantasy (London: Middlesex University Press), 285 pages, 978-1904750680