Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Fantasy of Manners

Term coined in 1991 to describe the shared sensibility of a group of fantasy writers emerging in the 1980s, including Steven Brust, Emma Bull, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Caroline Stevermer and Terri Windling. Born in the 1950s, these writers were the first generation to be influenced by tv; movies like The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night (1964) also had a great deal of impact. Children's literature remained an interest for them (both as readers and as writers) long after childhood. The Regency romances of Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) – and her source, Jane Austen (1775-1817) – and the flamboyantly complex historical melodrama of the Lymond Chronicles (1960-1975) by Dorothy Dunnett (1923-2001) were further influences.

Their main genre predecessor is Fritz Leiber, particularly as begetter of Urban Fantasy and Contemporary Fantasy, and for his Diction – simpler and slangier than the previous generation of fantasists but nonetheless not overtly contemporary. Both Michael Moorcock – especially for Gloriana (1978) – and M John Harrison – with the Viriconium stories – had something to say to these writers.

Among the characteristics of these works are: the negotiability of social structures (a peculiarly US view of European institutions); the importance of Disguise, particularly Gender Disguise, as a method of that negotiation, of changing one's life; the importance of childhood in the formation of the adult; the necessity to find one's place in the world (particularly as an artist, whether musician or swordsman) by being true to one's own nature; and the cruciality of manners not only in fashion and behaviour but also in language – because control of words and of tone is power. What their characters say is even more important than what they do, and the range of diction, from lowest to highest, that these writers make use of is large. [DK]

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.