Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Playground

A term which acts as a complement – and as a conceptual opposite – to Fantasyland. Where a fantasyland can be regarded as an ecological framework within which a story can be set – too often, in the case of Genre Fantasy, this setting is the sole fantasticated element of the tale – a playground is, rather, a set of related ideas or concepts which are open to the fantasy-creator to romp in. As an example, the field of quantum mechanics – and the concepts associated with it – has supplied a broad playground for sf writers, with fantasy writers only more recently joining in; among the latter have been Thomas Palmer with Dream Science (1990), Lisa Tuttle with Lost Futures (1992), John Grant with The World (1992) and, to a lesser extent but much earlier, Mark Helprin with Winter's Tale (1983) and possibly (depending on one's reading of the book as fantasy or sf) Gene Wolfe with There Are Doors (1988). Most of these books relate to the Alternate-Worlds aspect of the playground opened out by quantum mechanics, which aspect fantasy writers have chosen to interpret in terms of Alternate Realities; such books – and movies, as in the case of Ralph Bakshi's Cool World (1992) – are, predictably, often Crosshatches. Yet playgrounds need not have their origins outside the demesne that we would ordinarily consider fantasy, or at least Lifestyle Fantasy: countless writers, especially in the 19th century although the influence still lingers, discovered that Theosophy presented a playground they could not resist, and almost the same could be said of Faerie. In the earlier part of this century, Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough (1890-1915), with its "laws" of Magic, offered a playground in which romped writers like Fletcher Pratt and L Sprague de Camp (the Harold Shea stories), Robert A Heinlein ("Magic, Inc." [ot "The Devil Makes the Law" 1940]), Poul Anderson (Operation Chaos [coll of linked stories 1971]) and Randall Garrett (the Lord Darcy series). Further examples of playgrounds could be cited, like the concept of the Multiverse created (though he did not create the term itself) by Michael Moorcock.

An essential difference between a playground and a fantasyland is that, while the latter circumscribes – sets limits to what is allowed within the tale – the former permits, if not encourages, enlargement of itself. [JG/DRL/JC]

see also: Agon; Wonderland.

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.