This thread I open because the issue has been raised and preliminarily discussed in another thread: The Banality of Evil
, but probably deserves one of its own.
Which are the roots of the Fantasy genre.
I think that the main root is the Romance genre
of Late Medieval and even Early Modern historical periods in Europe, however some mythological stuff, specially Celtic and Germanic mythology is also very influential, largely via Tolkien. And of course we can't ignore the precursor or the Romance genre which is the Chanson de Geste
, typical of troubadours, and even the Odyssey is mentioned as a more distant precursor.
And I'd dare say that in particular the Arturian Cycle
is maybe the most important single root, specially because it includes British mythological themes that would reappear in modern Fantasy. Merlin can be said to be the original archetypal wizard, Arthur the original archetypal good King (though in this we may also look to older sources, such as the Biblical story of David) and Lancelot the original archetypal heroic good knight.
Surely no other single Medieval story has been so influential in the modern Fantasy genre. However, it may be convenient here to briefly mention some of the other important stories of the genre. I am not that knowledgeable, so feel free to expand, please.
The Chanson de Roland
. Narrates from the Frankish viewpoint a major battle and maybe the only serious defeat of Charlemagne. In revenge for the destruction of the walls of Pamplona, Basques ambushed and annihilated the rearguard of Charlemagne's army as it retreated to France after having failed to conquer Zaragoza. Roland was the commander of this force, made up seemingly by the elite knights of the Empire, a relative of Charlemagne and Marquis of Brittany. He was glorified in the song, that replaced Basques with the more standard foe of Moors (Muslims) and altered many other historical facts as well. This is the archetypal Chanson de Geste.
Another important Chanson de Geste, again based on real historical facts, is the Cantar del Mío Cid
(Song of My "Sidi", "Lord" in Arabic), narrates the adventures of a disgraced Castilian knight who demanded from his new king to swear he was not guilty of killing his brother and predecessor and was exiled after that. He then became a mercenary captain at the Christian-Muslim frontier and eventually conquered Valencia. His loyalty to his original monarch, the King of Castile, was so great that he declared himself vassal of this realm even if he could well have chosen other overlords.
Other major chansons are included in the Matter of France
and the Matter of Rome
, however I am not really knowledgeable of them, so I won't comment further.
One issue that called my attention while reviewing this matter is the troubadour song style of sirventes
(servants), which deals with less highly born characters, usually at the service of a more important knight. This might be an important precursor of the appearance of commoner adventurers in the modern Fantasy genre. However they are still normally noblemen themselves.
I also have to mention the rather well known legend of Robin Hood
, which in fact introduces the character of the good rogue or bandit. A quite unusual story for its time.
Another possible source could be the Nordic sagas
, in which I would include the Beowulf. The best known one is of course that of Erik the Red
and his son Leif.
While obviously not among the roots of the genre, non-European cultures also had their own similar materials. In East Asia may be mentioned the Romance of the Three Kingdoms
and the legend of Sun Wukong
, the monkey god (that inspires modern Japanese cartoon character Son Goku). In India the long epic Mahabharata
must be mentioned as well.
And I would dare say that the Romanticism
is in many ways a revival of the cavalry genre, however modernized. Romantic heroes like Sandokan
or Michael Strogoff
are very much close to the modern Fantasy genre and may also be considered at its roots. One of the similitudes is that their adventures take place at frontier areas. In this sense, Wild West
"mythology" can also be said to fit in this late development, somewhat between realism and fantasy, between nostalgic epic and modernity.
This review does not pretend to be totally comprehensive, just introductory. Please discuss.