AW: Historical Fantasy

Belben Philip Philip.Belben at
Wed Sep 15 06:25:03 EDT 2004

Jennifer, quoting Bettina:
>> Clarke had done something new and unique by combinig
>> historical fiction and fantasy "like LotR written by Jane Austen". 
>> Apart from that being a very very strange metaphor, I thought
>> sponatously: That's not true, that has been done before. 
>> So, if I define "historical fiction" as stories taking place in a 
>> recognizable past (mentioning some historical events, or taking care 
>> to describe a cerain era), what titles with fantasy elements can we 
>> find?
> I think you're right. Several of the ones I thought of, like A College
> of Magics, are more like alternate pasts- they are set in what looks
> like the past of our world with magic, but the future of the book would
> not lead to our world, if that makes sense.

Well, my immediate thought was, like Roger's, "Sorcery and Cecelia".
Definitely recognisable historical events, but our world is not in the
future of theirs.

OTOH I think the tradition of historical fantasy is one of the strongest
threads, after Tolkien, in the genre.  Mary Stewart's Arthurian novels
spring immediately to mind; plenty of fantasy is set in classical times,
even if you discount re-tellings of classical myth (Roger Lancelyn Green
[*]).  Hallie recently introduced me to the work of Gillian Bradshaw, for
which I am very grateful:  "Beyond the North Wind" is classical fantasy;
"The Wolf Hunt" is mediaeval., and either could have our world in its

> Mary Gentle's Ash should qualify, though, (unless it's science fiction).

Hang on.  I've not read Ash, but why should being science fiction disqualify
a story from being fantasy?  Surely it's possible to extrapolate science and
introduce magic in the same story (Simak, "The Goblin Reservation" springs
to mind, but there's plenty more around.)

> Judith Merkle Riley's books. Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett's Armor of
> Light.  I'm sure I've read one by John M Ford set in the renaissance
> with magic. Doesn't Mercedes Lackey have a series set in a magical
> mediaeval Venice at the moment? And a series in a magical Victorian era?

Don't know about Lackey, but Tanith Lee has something of the sort (I've only
read "Faces under water").  And she's written Victorian fantasy too
("Elephantasm", which is horror as well as fantasy)

Oh, goodness.  I've just thought of "The Perilous Gard".

And so it goes on...

> Anyway, the presenter was wrong. (A mainstream reviewer being ignorant
> of fantasy and calling something new and unique when it isn't. I am so
> surprised.) Jonathan Strange does sound really good, I want to read it,
> and it may be very original in how it achieves its effects- if it is
> written in a Jane Austenish way, that would be interesting to read. But
> the concept of historical fiction mixed with fantasy is not new. (I'm
> sure Clarke knows that even though this reviewer dosn't.) 



[*] Is Roger Lancelyn Green, who retells classical myth, the same Roger
Green who also writes as "Tiresias"?  He too is a classicist, so it could
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