Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

The basic venue in which much Genre Fantasy is set. This location has been given many names: it may be called the World (as John Grant has done) or the Gameworld (as John Clute has done), or any of a dozen other designations, but it is as recognizable a locale as Ruritania. A typical Fantasyland will display – often initially by means of a prefatory Map – a selection, sometimes very full, from a more or less fixed list of landscape ingredients, which includes the following features: a continent (or two), one or more inland seas and an ocean (or two), Archipelagos, mountains, isolated Islands, fjords, steppes, pastures, deserts, Forests (but rarely jungles, for they are too far south – though Fantasyland authors taking elements from the Sword and Sorcery tales of Robert E Howard do incorporate them) and realms of ice, Edifices and Cities, usually ancient, sometimes abandoned. Polders and sites evoking a sense of Time Abyss are rare in Fantasyland.

These features persevere wherever the author claims her or his Fantasyland is actually located: it may ostensibly be set in an Alternate Reality (as in God Game [1986] by Andrew M Greeley [1928-2013], or Gael Baudino's Dragonsword sequence, or Greg Bear's Songs of Earth and Power [omni 1992 UK]); it may be set in prehistory (as in Julian May's Saga of the Pliocene Exiles); it may be set on Mars or Venus (as in Edgar Rice Burroughs's numerous Planetary Romances), or on a distant world (like many of Jack Vance's novels, or in Terry Pratchett's Discworld sequence); it may be set in the future (as in John Christopher's Prince in Waiting trilogy) or the Land of Fable in the deep past (like Howard's Conan books, and consequently much of the S&S which imitates Howard), or in some other Science-Fantasy venue; it may be set inside the Hollow Earth (once again Burroughs provides examples); it may ostensibly be set in land-of-fable venues like Arthurian Britain (almost the only author not to set his or her Arthur saga in Fantasyland is T H White, whose The Once and Future King [1958] argues with the venue) or any Nordic Twilight location; or it may simply default to the venue which underlies the surface appearance of all late-20th-century Fantasylands: this venue (or condition of being) is the Secondary World.

The source of most late-20th-century Fantasylands is, naturally enough, the central secondary world of modern fantasy: J R R Tolkien's Arda, in the centre of which Middle-Earth abides. The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) is set in Middle-Earth itself; Tolkien's other fantasies, all describing events prior to the climactic tale told in LOTR, cover all of Arda, its oceans and isles and transfigurations, over the 30,000 years of the full story. Two aspects of Tolkien's subcreation are relevant to any understanding of Arda, though only the first may be relevant to the creators of Fantasyland, all of whom reflect Arda in their own subcreations: (a) the central Middle-Earth Landscape depicted by Tolkien, though not original to him in any particular, is imagined with such detail and solidity that its geography has become a template, as described above; and (b) Arda is a land constantly – as befits the world of a full fantasy – living under the threat of Metamorphosis.

Full-fantasy narratives are stories of profound, all-transforming change. LOTR is such a narrative; and is subject, as noted, to the constant metamorphic meaning-drenched interplay between setting and tale which is essential to any definition of full fantasy. In LOTR world (or Landscape) and Story are inherently intertwined: one cannot exist without the other, and each modifies the other. But Fantasyland's relationship to the secondary world parallels the relationship of genre fantasy to full fantasy, or of S&S to the Monomyth. Fantasyland, it follows, is a secondary world which is fixed in place; it is inherently immobile; it is backdrop, not actor; and, because it has already been "solved", it cannot be transformed. Though fine stories can readily be set in a landscape so fixed – a good example being Assassin's Apprentice (1995 UK) by Megan Lindholm (writing as Robin Hobb) – it is still the case that Fantasyland is a natural home for unambitious tales.

The Fantasyland which serves as backdrop or arena for the various genre fantasies that have flourished in the late 20th century is profoundly dissociated from the actions played out upon it, frequently in the form of indefinitely repeated Agons (see Gameworlds; Parody; Thinning); and the genre fantasies set there are often fantasies in name only. For Fantasyland can never, in any genuine sense, be the true subject of a story set in it. As soon as a plot begins to intersect with the world in which it is set – an example might be E R Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros (1922) – then it becomes evident that a genuine fantasy may be unfolding, and Fantasyland is transformed into Story.

Fantasyland is a particularly useful thought-free setting for authors of Shared-World enterprises and extended series. [JC/JG]

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.