In 1997, JK Rowling took the world by storm. As a British novelist and philanthropist, Rowling produced one of her best works Harry Potter and the readers got their modern day wizard. While travelling from Manchester to London King's Cross in 1990, the British author first thought of the character and his world of magic. It took her nearly seven years to create "Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry”.
It was not only a revolution in the world of fantasy novels, it also changed our childhood memories of wizards and how we fantasised their being. Young readers were introduced to a whole new dictionary of magic and fantasies. Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley became overnight sensations. Harry Potter books grabbed the attention of young readers and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and Rowling's first of the series Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone found immense popularity among readers and became a critically acclaimed, young adult literature.
The book that, forever, changed how we saw fantasy. (Photo: Bloomsbury Publication)
The history of fantasy literature dates back to the early 19th century. The elements of supernatural and fantasy were a food for thought for many authors. The tales of Arabian Nights and the likes set the mood for the fantasy novels. People were warming up to the concept of magical carpets, lamps and other tricks.
“Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp”, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”, and “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor” mesmerised them. Scottish author and poet George MacDonald (1824-1905) created the first explicitly fantastic works. Lewis Caroll considered him his mentor. In the twentieth century, The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien set the tone for epic fantasy.
In 1865, English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, introduced the adults and kids to Alice in Wonderland, a world of fantasy with anthropomorphic creatures. Its narrative was simple and enormously influential, especially in the case of fantasy genre. Through the protagonist or the girl-next-door, Alice, Carroll takes the readers on a journey to Wonderland.
The introduction of magic potions that help Alice to shrink is new to the readers and they are driven around Wonderland, marked by woods and mushrooms. This fantasy land sets the mood of the novel and the readers fantasise well kept gardens, substantial houses of the Duchess and the White Rabbit and many talking animals like the The Mock Turtle, The Mouse, The Dodo and many more.
In the 1950s, The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis caught everybody's attention. Lewis' series enthralled its readers, opening the Pandora box of witches, wizardry and flying animals.
Fantasy 101 — The myths, the legends and folk lores. (Photo: Harper Colins, Pan Macmillan, HarperCollins.)
The myths, the legends and folk lores were an integral part of fantastic works, but modern fantasy literature clearly outlined a major difference. They took us on journey far from reality, a separate world, where everything is unreal and what we always wanted to fantasise. Based on this theory many authors teased the fantasy of readers and compelled them to change their reading habits. The most successful among these writers was JK Rowling. The readers were so hooked to this fantasy series, that they didn't realise when the world of magic carpets, potions, wizards changed to Hogwarts School, magic brooms, wands. This tapped their imagination going beyond fantasy.
In the garb of fantasy, the series also explored other genres of horror, romance, thriller and adventure. In short, Harry Potter gave us the thrill of reading every genre, yet keeping the fantasy alive. Surprisingly though it also touched the dark side of magic, the readers easily fell in love with Lord Voldemort, the internationally feared Dark Wizard.
The commercialisation of the series and film making took the viewers beyond fantasy and some of them came out of theatres wanting to read the books. Rowling hooked her readers, leaving them panting for more. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and finally Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows changed the concept of reading and people wanted to be a part of this dream and kids dressed in capes wanted to be Harry Potter.
Through Harry Potter, Rowling ensured establishment of what we call “beyond fantasy”. It dared Potter fans to dream beyond the real. Today fantasy continues to be a medium which has subgenres. This includes traditional fantasy, sword and sorcery, magical realism, fairytale fantasy, and horror-tinged dark fantasy.