Old Paradigm; New Paradigm

How far back in history does the fantasy novel go? The earliest offering I’ve heard of is Beowulf; I don’t believe we even know who wrote it. It concerns one mighty hero’s conflict with a monster and then with the monster’s mother who is even worse. It is not terribly complex but it has an essence, a richness that has caused it to last over the centuries. Presumable there were other fantasies written down in that pre-historical period, but these novels are out-of-print in a big way. Maybe their publishers simply weren’t making enough money from them.

The next oldest fantasy novel that we know of is The Lord of the Rings which was not written so long ago that we don’t know the author. Tolkien updated this kind of novel by making the plot more complex and hence we have the new fantasy paradigm that has been with us ever since the third century A.D. when Tolkien wrote the book. He also was the first to dream up make-believe characters called elves, trolls, dwarfs and hobbits. Every even vaguely similar book written since that time long ago has been compared to The Lord of the Rings probably because the authors felt guilty about employing all his elves, trolls, etc. with different names and the same plot.

The modern fantasy novel period began with The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality by Gahan Hanmer who rewrote the paradigm for the foreseeable future by using truthful characters and a plausible setting in which to weave a novel in which reality and make-believe constantly were changing places. Doubtless all the new fantasies will be compared to The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality just as the books of the previous paradigm were compared to Tolkien’s work. The wheels of history and fashion turn slowly but they grind exceeding well.