Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Annuals occasionally appeared in the summer but were more often a phenomenon of winter, owing something of their origins to the tradition of the almanac; of particular significance here was the Vox Stellarum of the astrologer Francis Moore (1657-1714), which first appeared in 1700 and is still an annual tradition as Old Moore's Almanac. The association with the dark evenings and particularly with Christmas (see Christmas Books) meant that annuals frequently featured Ghost Stories. As a result of both these factors annuals are closely linked to the field of Supernatural Fiction.

The first genuine annuals were highly illustrated and, with the new technique of steel engraving, artwork was much featured (see Illustration). This made them more expensive than normal books or magazines, so they were issued as giftbooks. The format was set by the lithographer Rudolph Ackermann (1764-1834), who brought the idea from Germany. Already established in London from 1795 with his fine-art printing, he issued the first giftbook, Forget-Me-Not in 1823 (1823-1847 25 vols ed Frederic Shoberl [1775-1853]). This rapidly begat imitations, of which the most successful was The Keepsake (1828-1857 30 vols); the first volume ed William Harrison Ainsworth, who was succeeded 1829-1835 by Frederic M Reynolds (?1800-1850). The Keepsake published several supernatural stories by Sir Walter Scott and Mary Shelley. Its US equivalents were The Token (1828-1842 15 vols), notable for running many stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and The Gift (1840-1845 4 vols), which published several Horror stories by Edgar Allan Poe, including "The Pit and the Pendulum" (1844). The expense of the annuals led to their downfall in the late 1840s.

By then, particularly in the UK, the publication of Christmas Books had become increasingly popular. This was especially so after the success of the Christmas Stories by Charles Dickens, which started with A Christmas Carol (1843) and continued with a new Christmas book each year until The Haunted Man (1848). The medium was continued by William Makepeace Thackeray, whose Fairytale The Rose and the Ring (1855) as by M A Titmarsh was the last of his Christmas stories. By this time the literary and popular Magazines had established themselves, and they began to publish special Christmas issues, which during the 1850s began to supersede the literary annuals, though they were not so attractive. The leader was Dickens, who issued special Christmas issues of his magazine Household Words (1850-1859) and its successor All the Year Round (1859-1895); these frequently sold in excess of 250,000 copies. Some of the most popular of all Victorian Ghost Stories appeared in these Christmas issues, including work by Wilkie Collins, Amelia B Edwards (1831-1892), Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) and J Sheridan Le Fanu.

The Christmas annual became firmly established with Beeton's Christmas Annual (39 vols 1860-1898), the best-remembered of the Victorian annuals because it published the first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet (1887). A few volumes of Beeton's emphasized the unusual, like Bach-O-Bahar (anth 1871), which used the Arabian Fantasy as a vehicle for Satire, The Fortunate Island (anth 1880), which used a remote Island in its Frame Story by Max Adeler, and A Dead Town (anth 1883).

The early Christmas annuals of Tinsley's Magazine, during the editorship of Edmund Yates (1831-1894), are particularly interesting. The first three – Storm-bound (anth 1867), A Stable for Nightmares (anth 1868; rev 1896 US) and Thirteen at Table (anth 1869) – had a frame device whereby people who had gathered together (either voluntarily or by mishap) told tales – frequently ghost stories – to pass the time. A Stable for Nightmares is devoted entirely to the supernatural. All these annuals featured either complete novels or collections of stories often linked by a frame story. They are difficult to distinguish from Anthologies, which were also emerging during this period.

The Belgravia Annual (1867-1896 30 vols), a special additional Christmas volume of Belgravia, frequently carried ghost stories, including those by its initial editor, M E Braddon. Other significant annuals in our context include the 1883 Bow Bells Annual – entitled Stories with a Vengeance – which contained tales of vengeful Spirits, and two volumes of Unwin's Christmas Annual, ed Sir Henry Norman (1858-1939). The first of these latter, The Broken Shaft (1886), set aboard a stranded liner, included the original publications of "The Upper Berth" by F Marion Crawford and "Markheim" by Robert Louis Stevenson; the second, The Witching Time (1887), featured "By the Waters of Paradise" by Crawford and "A Mystery of the Campagna" by his sister Anne Crawford, Baroness Von Rabe (1846-1912). Arrowsmith's Christmas Annual began in 1881 with the imitative frame story "Thirteen at Dinner" and included a few supernatural stories, but the main success of this series was the 1883 volume, which featured the novel Called Back (1883 chap) by Hugh Conway, a murder mystery including telepathy (see Talents), which in this and subsequent editions sold almost half a million copies within three years.

Annuals continued to be a feature of magazine publishing until WWI, but thereafter they were almost wholly superseded by books. Some of these Anthologies were annuals in terms of frequency of appearance (e.g., the Not at Night series and the Pan Book of Horror Stories), but they lacked the atmosphere or variety of the Victorian annuals.

The annual format switched to children's books. Children's annuals had been around almost as long as their adult equivalent, starting with The Christmas Box (1828-1829 2 vols) ed T Crofton Croker (1798-1854) and The Juvenile Forget-Me-Not (1829-1837 9 vols) ed Anna Maria Hall (1800-1881). Children's annuals likewise soon became associated with magazines, but the tradition of the annual remained stronger in children's publishing, and a number of annuals appeared not directly associated with magazines; these included Blackie's Children's Annual (1904-1940 37 vols) and Joy Street Annual (1923-1936 14 vols; #13 was numbered #12a). The latter included many fantasies by Algernon Blackwood, Laurence Housman and Compton Mackenzie (1883-1972), plus poetry by Lord Dunsany. Particularly influential in the fantasy world has been the Rupert Annual (see Rupert the Bear).

The closest the fantasy genre has to annuals today are the annual selection of the year's best stories. The latest such selection is The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (first issued as The Year's Best Fantasy anth 1988; retitled The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror from #3 anth 1990) ed Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, and Best New Horror (#1 anth 1990) ed Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell (ed Jones alone from #6 anth 1995). [MA]

further reading: Literary Annuals and Gift-Books (1912) by F W Faxon; An Index to the Annuals 1820-1850 (1967) by Andrew Boyle.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.