Children's fantasy

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Illustration from first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Children's fantasy is children's literature with fantasy elements: fantasy for young readers.[1] It may also mean fantasy read by children (regardless of intended audience).[2]

The genre has roots in folk tales such as Aesop's Fables that were not originally intended for children.[3] Before the Victorian era, fairytales were perceived as immoral and ill-suited for children's minds.[4] A market for children's fantasy was established in Britain in the 19th century,[5] leading to works such as Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Edith Nesbit's Psammead trilogy.[6] Nesbit has been cited as the creator of modern children's fantasy.[7] The genre also developed in America, exemplified by L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.[8]

The golden age of children's fantasy, in scholars' view, occurred in the mid-20th century.[9] The genre was influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia.[10] In the vein of Narnia, the post-war period saw rising stakes and manifestations of evil in the works of Susan Cooper and Alan Garner.[11] Tolkien's Middle-earth led to mythopoeic fantasy in the 1970s, from authors such as Ursula K. Le Guin and Robin McKinley.[12] Another influential writer of this period was Diana Wynne Jones, who wrote both medievalist and realist fantasies.[13]

In the late 1990s, J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter led to a resurgence in children's fantasy.[14] The so-called Potter boom revived older authors' careers and spawned many imitators.[15] A concurrent success is Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, a darker, realistic fantasy that led to a corresponding trend in a new young adult market.[16][17]

Children's fantasy books and series[edit]

The protagonists are usually children or teens who have unique abilities, gifts, possessions or even allies that allow them to face powerful adversaries. Harry Potter is a powerful young wizard, one of the children of The Dark Is Rising series is an immature Old One with magical abilities, and in the His Dark Materials series the children have magical items and animal allies. The plot frequently incorporates a bildungsroman.

In the earlier part of the 20th century, C. S. Lewis noted that fantasy was more accepted in juvenile literature, and therefore a writer interested in fantasy often wrote in it to find an audience.[18]


1900 to 1945[edit]

Post-War and 1950s[edit]

Late 20th Century[edit]

More recent titles and series[edit]


  1. ^ Nikolajeva 2012, p. 50.
  2. ^ Levy & Mendlesohn 2016, pp. 6–7.
  3. ^ Levy & Mendlesohn 2016, p. 12.
  4. ^ Ashley & Grant 1997.
  5. ^ Levy & Mendlesohn 2016, pp. 28–29.
  6. ^ Townsend 2001, p. 253.
  7. ^ Nikolajeva 2012, p. 51.
  8. ^ Levy & Mendlesohn 2016, p. 59.
  9. ^ Levy & Mendlesohn 2016, p. 115.
  10. ^ Cecire 2019, pp. 83–84.
  11. ^ Levy & Mendlesohn 2016, pp. 106, 111–13.
  12. ^ Levy & Mendlesohn 2016, pp. 138, 142.
  13. ^ Levy & Mendlesohn 2016, pp. 151, 154.
  14. ^ Beckett 2008, p. 135.
  15. ^ Levy & Mendlesohn 2016, pp. 167, 170.
  16. ^ Beckett 2008, pp. 117, 138.
  17. ^ Levy & Mendlesohn 2016, pp. 212–13.
  18. ^ Lewis 1975, p. 41.


Further reading[edit]