Historical fantasy

Historical fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy that encompasses the Middle Ages as well as sometimes and simply represents fictitious versions of historic events. This sub-genre is common among role-playing games and high fantasy literature. It can include various elements of medieval European culture and society, including a monarchical government, feudal social structure, medieval warfare, and mythical entities common in European folklore. Works of this genre may have plots set in biblical times or classical antiquity. They often have plots based very loosely on mythology or legends of Greek-Roman history, or the surrounding cultures of the same era.

334 The Romance of King Arthur
"How Arthur drew his sword Excalibur for the first time." Arthur Rackham's illustration for Alfred W. Pollard's The Romance of King Arthur abridged from Thomas Malory's 15th-century Arthurian medieval fantasy novel Le Morte d'Arthur


Historical fantasy usually takes one of four common approaches:[1]

  1. Magic, mythical creatures or other supernatural elements co-exist invisibly with the mundane world, with the majority of people being unaware of it. In this, it has a close similarity to contemporary fantasy. This commonly overlaps with the secret history trope. Alternatively, the author's narrative shows or implies that by the present day, magic will have retreated from the world so as to allow history to revert to the familiar version we know.[2] An example of this can be found in Lord Dunsany's The Charwoman's Shadow, which takes place in Spain, but which ends with the magician in it removing himself, and all creatures of romance, from the world, thereby ending the Golden Age.[3]
  2. It also can include an alternative history where the past or present has been significantly changed when an actual historical event turned out differently.[4]
  3. The story takes place in a secondary world with specific and recognizable parallels to a known place (or places) and a definite historical period, rather than taking the geographic and historical "mix and match" favoured by other works of secondary world fantasy. However, many, if not most, works by fantasy authors derive ideas and inspiration from real events, making the borders of this approach unclear.
  4. Historical Fantasy may also be set in a fictional world which resembles a period from history but is not that actual history.[4]

All four approaches have overlapped in the sub-genre of steampunk commonly associated with science fiction literature. However, not all steampunk fantasy belongs to the historical fantasy sub-genre.


Arabian fantasy

After Antoine Galland's translation of One Thousand and One Nights became enormously popular in Europe, many writers wrote fantasy based on Galland's romantic image of the Middle East and North Africa. Early examples included the satirical tales of Anthony Hamilton, and Zadig by Voltaire.[5] English-language work in the Arabian fantasy genre includes Rasselas (1759) by Samuel Johnson, The Tales of the Genii by James Ridley (1764), Vathek by William Thomas Beckford (1786),[6] George Meredith's The Shaving of Shagpat (1856), Khaled (1891) by F. Marion Crawford, and James Elroy Flecker's Hassan (1922).[7]

In the late 1970s, interest in the sub-genre revived with Hasan (1977) by Piers Anthony. This was followed by several other novels reworking Arabian legend: the metafictional The Arabian Nightmare (1983) by Robert Irwin, Diana Wynne Jones' children's novel Castle in the Air (1990), Tom Holt's humorous Djinn Rummy (1995) and Hilari Bell's Fall of a Kingdom.[7]

Celtic fantasy

Celtic fantasy has links to historical fantasy and Celtic historical fiction. Celtic historical fantasy includes such works as Katharine Kerr's Deverry series, or Teresa Edgerton's Green Lion trilogy. These works are (loosely) based on ancient Celtic cultures. The separate folklore of Ireland, Wales, and Scotland has sometimes been used indiscriminately, sometimes with great effect,as in Paul Hazel's Finnbranch trilogy, Yearwood (1980), Undersea, (1982) and Winterking (1985);[8] other writers have distinguished to use a single source.[9]

Notable works inspired by Irish mythology included James Stephens' The Crock of Gold (1912), Lord Dunsany's The Curse of the Wise Woman (1933), Flann O'Brien's humorous At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), Pat O'Shea's The Hounds of the Morrigan (1985) and novels by Peter Tremayne, Morgan Llywelyn and Gregory Frost.[9]

The Welsh tradition has been particularly influential, which has its connection to King Arthur and its collection in a single work, the epic Mabinogion.[9] One influential retelling of this was the fantasy work of Evangeline Walton: The Island of the Mighty, The Children of Llyr, The Song of Rhiannon, and Prince of Annwn. A notable amount of fiction has been written in the Welsh area of Celtic fantasy;[10] other notable authors of Welsh Celtic fantasy include Kenneth Morris, John Cowper Powys, Vaughan Wilkins, Lloyd Alexander, Alan Garner,[11] and Jenny Nimmo.[12]

Scottish Celtic fantasy is less common, but James Hogg, John Francis Campbell (The Celtic Dragon Myth, 1911), Fiona MacLeod, William Sharp, George Mackay Brown and Deborah Turner Harris all wrote material based on Scottish myths and legends.[11]

Fantasy based on the Breton folklore branch of Celtic mythology does not often appear in the English language. However, several noted writers have utilized such material; Robert W. Chambers' The Demoiselle d'Ys (from The King in Yellow,1895) and A. Merritt in Creep, Shadow! (1934) both drew on the Breton legend of the lost city of Ys,[13] while "The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun" (1930) by J. R. R. Tolkien is a narrative poem based on the Breton legend of the Corrigan.[14]

Classical fantasy

Classical fantasy is a sub-genre fantasy based on the Greek and Roman myths. Symbolism from classical mythology is enormously influential on Western culture, but it was not until the 19th century that it was used in the context of literary fantasy. Richard Garnett (The Twilight of the Gods and Other Tales, 1888, revised 1903) and John Kendrick Bangs (Olympian Nights, 1902) used the Greek myths for satirical purposes.[15]

20th-century writers who made extensive use of the sub-genre included John Erksine, who continued the satirical tradition of classical fantasy in such works as The Private Life of Helen of Troy (1925) and Venus, the Lonely Goddess (1949). Eden Phillpotts used Greek myths to make philosophical points in such fantasies as Pan and the Twins (1922) and Circe's Island (1925).[15] Jack Williamson's The Reign of Wizardry (Unknown Worlds, 1940) is an adventure story based on the legend of Theseus.[16] Several of Thomas Burnett Swann's novels draw on Greek and Roman myth, including Day of the Minotaur (1966).[17] The Firebrand (1986) by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Olympic Games (2004) by Leslie What are both classical fantasy tales with feminist undertones.[15]

Fantasy steampunk

Fantasy steampunk is another sub-genre of historical fantasy, generally set in the Victorian or Edwardian eras. Steam technology, mixed with Victorian or Gothic-style architecture and technology, is the most widely recognized interpretation of this genre. One of the most popular characteristics of steampunk is the appearance of naked clockwork and rusty gears. Some works in this genre are alternate history.

Gaslamp fantasy

Gaslamp fantasy is sub-genres to both steampunk and historical fantasy, take place in alternative universe based on Victorian or Edwardian eras however magic instead plays a more important role than the era's technology.

Gunpowder fantasy

Similar to steampunk, gunpowder fantasy is considered a step below its more popular cousin. Gunpowder fantasy combines elements of epic fantasy (magic, mythical creatures, elves, epic scale) with rifles and railroads. It is a relatively new sub-genre, but has been picking up popularity. It varies from steampunk in that it stays away from the fantastic inventions (airships, machines, etc.) that are common in steampunk. It is also sometimes called "muskets and magic". Gunpowder fantasy is generally set in a world with roughly equivalent technology to the world in the 17th through 19th centuries, particularly the latter eras. Typically, gunpowder fantasy also includes elements of real-world technology such as steam power, telegraphy and in some cases early telephones or combustion engines.

Gunpowder fantasy examples include Monster Blood Tattoo Series by D. M. Cornish (2006–2010), Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa (2010–), Terrarch Tetralogy by William King (2011–), and The Powder Mage trilogy, Brian McClellan (2013–2015).

Medieval fantasy

Historical fantasy is a category of fantasy and genre of historical fiction that incorporates fantastic elements (such as magic) into a more "realistic" narrative.[18] There is much crossover with other sub-genres of fantasy; those classed as Arthurian, Celtic, or Dark Ages could just as easily be placed in historical fantasy.[19]

Prehistoric fantasy

Stories set in prehistoric times and depicting the lives of prehistoric people. Prehistoric fantasy examples include Earth's Children series, Jean M. Auel (1980-2011).


Wǔxiá, literally meaning "martial (arts) heroes", is a sub-genre of the quasi-fantasy and martial arts genre in literature, television and cinema. Wǔxiá figures prominently in the popular culture of Chinese-speaking areas, and the most important writers have devoted followings.

The wǔxiá genre is a blend of the philosophy of xiá (俠, "honor code", "an ethical person", "a hero"), and China's long history in wǔshù ("kung fu" (pronounced gong fu, despite popular misconceptions) or "martial arts"). A martial artist who follows the code of xiá is called a swordsman, or xiákè (俠客/侠客, literally "chivalrous guest"). Japan's samurai bushidō traditions, England's knight chivalry traditions, and America's gunslinger Western traditions all share some aspects with China's swordsman xiá traditions. The swordsman, however, need not serve a lord or hold any military power and they are not required to be from an aristocratic class.

See also


  1. ^ "What is historical fantasy?". Tor.com. 2009-07-31. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  2. ^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Thinning", p 942 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
  3. ^ "What is Historical Fantasy? – Steven Till – Author of medieval fiction". Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  4. ^ a b Sinclair Frances, "Historical Fantasy", Riveting Reads plus Fantasy Fiction, (UK: School Library Association), 69.
  5. ^ Frances Mannsåker, "Elegancy and Wildness:Reflections of the East in the Eighteenth Century Imagination", in George Sebastian Rousseau and Roy Porter, Exoticism in the Enlightenment,Manchester University Press , 1990 ISBN 0-7190-2677-6 (pp. 175-196).
  6. ^ Kenneth Wayne Graham, Vathek and the escape from time: bicentenary revaluations. AMS Press, 1990 (p. 39).
  7. ^ a b David Langford, "Deserts",in Westfahl, Gary, ed. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2005. ISBN 0-313-32951-6, (pp. 187-189).
  8. ^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Hazel, Paul" p 458, ISBN 0-312-19869-8 . Clute comments that the Finnbranch books "operate at a level of originality rare in fantasy".
  9. ^ a b c John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Celtic fantasy", p 275 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
  10. ^ Michael Moorcock, Wizardry & Wild Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy p 101 ISBN 1-932265-07-4
  11. ^ a b Brian Stableford, The A to Z of Fantasy Literature,"Celtic Fantasy", p 65-7. ISBN 0-8108-6829-6
  12. ^ Donna R. White, A Century of Welsh Myth in Children's Literature, p 5 ISBN 0-313-30570-6
  13. ^ E. F. Bleiler, "A.Merrit", in Bleiler, ed. Supernatural Fiction Writers. New York: Scribner's, 1985, pp.835-844. ISBN 0-684-17808-7
  14. ^ Paul Harold Kocher, Master of Middle-earth:the fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien Del Rey, 2001, ISBN 0345465601 (p. 18, 167-176).
  15. ^ a b c Stableford, The A to Z of Fantasy Literature ,"Classical Fantasy", pp. 79-80.
  16. ^ Fred Smith, Once There Was a Magazine: A Personal View of "Unknown" and "Unknown Worlds". Beccon Publications, pp. 17-20. ISBN 1-870824-45-8
  17. ^ John Clute, "Thomas Burnett Swann" in: E.F. Bleiler,.ed. Supernatural Fiction Writers. New York: Scribner's, 1985. pp.1097-1104.
  18. ^ Shanoes, Veronica (26 January 2012). "20: Historical Fantasy". In Edward James; Farah Mendlesohn (eds.). The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature. Cambridge University Press. p. 236. ISBN 978-0-521-42959-7. Retrieved 9 May 2013.
  19. ^ Sinclair Frances, "Historical Fantasy", Riveting Reads plus Fantasy Fiction (UK: School Library Association), 69.
Aladdin (2019 film)

Aladdin is an upcoming American musical fantasy film directed by Guy Ritchie, from the screenplay co-written with John August, and produced by Walt Disney Pictures. It is a live action remake of Disney's 1992 animated film of the same name, which is in turn based on the eponymous Arabic folktale from One Thousand and One Nights. The film stars Mena Massoud in the titular role, alongside Will Smith, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, and Billy Magnussen.

In October 2016, Disney announced Ritchie would direct a live-action Aladdin remake. Smith was the first member of the cast to join, signing on to portray Genie in July 2017, and later that month Massoud and Scott were confirmed for the two lead roles. Principal photography began that September at Longcross Studios in Surrey, England, also filming in the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan, and lasted until January 2018.

Aladdin is scheduled to be theatrically released in the United States on May 24, 2019.

Berkeley Square (film)

Berkeley Square is a 1933 American pre-Code fantasy drama film produced by Fox Film Corporation, directed by Frank Lloyd, and starring Leslie Howard and Heather Angel. It recounts the tale of young American Peter Standish, played by Howard (nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor), who is transported back to London shortly after the American Revolution, where he meets his ancestors. The film was based on the play of the same name by John L. Balderston, itself loosely based on the incomplete novel The Sense of the Past by Henry James. Howard also played Standish in the Broadway play.The film was thought to have been lost until it was rediscovered in the 1970s. A newly restored 35mm print has been made, and the restored version was first shown at the 2011 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival.

Britannia (TV series)

Britannia is a British-American historical fantasy series written by Jez Butterworth. The nine-part series is the first co-production between Sky and Amazon Prime Video and stars Kelly Reilly, David Morrissey, Zoë Wanamaker, Liana Cornell, and Stanley Weber. It aired on Sky Atlantic in the UK beginning 18 January 2018 and on Amazon Prime Video in the US beginning 26 January 2018.

Hercules (1958 film)

Hercules (Italian: Le fatiche di Ercole, lit. 'The Labours of Hercules') is a 1958 Italian peplum film based upon the Hercules and the Quest for the Golden Fleece myths. The film stars Steve Reeves as the titular hero and Sylva Koscina as his love interest Princess Iole. Hercules was directed by Pietro Francisci and produced by Federico Teti. The film spawned a 1959 sequel, Hercules Unchained (Italian: Ercole e la Regina di Lidia), that also starred Reeves and Koscina.

Hercules made Reeves an international film star and effectively paved the way for the dozens of 1960s peplum (or "sword and sandal") films featuring bodybuilder actors as mythological heroes and gladiators battling monsters, despots, and evil queens.

Hercules Unchained

Hercules Unchained (Italian: Ercole e la regina di Lidia, "Hercules and the Queen of Lydia") is a 1959 Italian-French epic fantasy feature film starring Steve Reeves and Sylva Koscina in a story about two warring brothers and Hercules' tribulations in the court of Queen Omphale. The film is the sequel to the Reeves vehicle Hercules (1958) and marks Reeves' second - and last - appearance as Hercules. The film's screenplay, loosely based upon various Greek myths and dramas, was written by Ennio De Concini and Pietro Francisci with Francisci directing and Bruno Vailati and Ferruccio De Martino producing the film.

Historical fiction

Historical fiction is a literary genre in which the plot takes place in a setting located in the past. Although the term is commonly used as a synonym for the historical novel, it can also be applied to other types of narrative, including theatre, opera, cinema and television, as well as video games and graphic novels.

An essential element of historical fiction is that it is set in the past and pays attention to the manners, social conditions and other details of the period depicted. Authors also frequently choose to explore notable historical figures in these settings, allowing readers to better understand how these individuals might have responded to their environments. Some subgenres such as alternate history and historical fantasy insert speculative or ahistorical elements into a novel.

Works of historical fiction are sometimes criticized for lack of authenticity because of readerly or genre expectations for accurate period details. This tension between historical authenticity, or historicity, and fiction frequently becomes a point of comment for readers and popular critics, while scholarly criticism frequently goes beyond this commentary, investigating the genre for its other thematic and critical interests.

Historical fiction as a contemporary Western literary genre has its foundations in the early 19th century works of Sir Walter Scott and his contemporaries in other national literatures such as the Frenchman Honoré de Balzac, the American James Fenimore Cooper, and a later Russian, Leo Tolstoy. However, the melding of "historical" and "fiction" in individual works of literature has a long tradition in most cultures; both western traditions (as early as Ancient Greek and Roman literature) as well as Eastern, in the form of oral and folk traditions (see mythology and folklore), which produced epics, novels, plays and other fictional works describing history for contemporary audiences.

It Happened Tomorrow

It Happened Tomorrow is a 1944 American fantasy film directed by René Clair, starring Dick Powell, Linda Darnell and Jack Oakie, and featuring Edgar Kennedy and John Philliber.

Katherine Kurtz

Katherine Irene Kurtz is an American fantasy writer and author of sixteen historical fantasy novels in the Deryni series. She also wrote several occult alternate history novels in her Templar series, and urban fantasy novels in her Adept series.Her 1970 debut novel, Deryni Rising, was one of the first fantasy novels written in a mode closer to historical fiction than to mythology or legend, as was common in the then-popular high fantasy works such as those by J. R. R. Tolkien. Writing in Strange Horizons, Kari Sperring calls Kurtz the "first writer of secondary-world historical fantasy", noting her close attention to the importance of faith in pre-modern Western societies and her portrayal of magic as a formal, ritual practice as opposed to the "picaresque and informal" way magic was depicted in other fantasy of the time.Kurtz's works were popular in the 1970s until the early 1990s, but are no longer widely read.

Lancelot and Guinevere

Lancelot and Guinevere (known as Sword of Lancelot in the U.S.) is a British 1963 film starring Cornel Wilde, his real-life wife at the time, Jean Wallace, and Brian Aherne. This lesser-known version of the Camelot legend is a work shaped predominantly by Cornel Wilde, who co-produced, directed, co-wrote, and played Lancelot.

Nagarahavu (2016 film)

Nagarahavu (Kannada: ನಾಗರಹಾವು, English: Cobra) is a 2016 Indian Kannada language epic-fantasy film directed by Kodi Ramakrishna, who made his directorial debut in Kannada cinema and final film before his death in 2019, and produced by Sajid Qureshi, Inbox Pictures Pvt Ltd. With Ramya in the leading role, a digitally recreated CGI version of deceased actor Dr.Vishnuvardhan has played main role, with the film being marketed as his "comeback". The film has been dubbed and released in Tamil as Shivanagam, Telugu as Nagabharanam' and Hindi as Nagavanshi. The film released on 14 October 2016.

It was festive season to fans for having come back of legendary actor Dr.Vishnuvardhan through CGI effect.

Scrooge (1935 film)

Scrooge is a 1935 British fantasy film directed by Henry Edwards and starring Seymour Hicks, Donald Calthrop and Robert Cochran. Hicks appears as Ebenezer Scrooge, the miser who hates Christmas. It was the first sound version of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, not counting a 1928 short subject that now appears to be lost. Hicks had previously played the role of Scrooge on the stage many times beginning in 1901, and again in a 1913 British silent film version.

The Ghost Goes West

The Ghost Goes West is a 1935 British romantic comedy/fantasy film starring Robert Donat, Jean Parker, and Eugene Pallette, and directed by René Clair, his first English-language film. The film contrasts an Old World ghost dealing with American vulgarity.

This production combines a Hungarian-born British producer, a French director, and an American writer in a British film. This movie was the biggest grossing movie of its year in Great Britain.

The Nameless Knight

The Nameless Knight (Turkish: Adsız Cengaver) is a 1970 Turkish historical fantasy film directed by Halit Refiğ and starring Cüneyt Arkin, Nebahat Çehre, Birsen Ayda, and Altan Günbay.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945 film)

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a 1945 American horror-drama film based on Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel of the same name. Released in March 1945 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the film is directed by Albert Lewin and stars George Sanders as Lord Henry Wotton and Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray. Shot primarily in black-and-white, the film features four colour inserts in 3-strip Technicolor of Dorian's portrait; these are a special effect, the first two inserts are the original portrait and the second two after a major period of degeneration then recovery.

The Student of Prague (1926 film)

The Student of Prague (German: Der Student von Prag) is a 1926 Expressionist silent film by actor and filmmaker Henrik Galeen.The film is a remake of The Student of Prague (1913). It is considered as Galeen's most important film since The Golem (1915) and is regarded as his magnum opus. The film draws on the Faust legend.The film crew involved some famous names: designer Hermann Warm; cinematographer Günther Krampf; and the actors Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Dagny Servaes, Leni Riefenstahl and Elizza La Porta. Der Student von Prag made La Porta a well-known actress.

The Thief of Bagdad (1952 film)

The Thief of Bagdad (German: Die Diebin von Bagdad) is a 1952 West German musical comedy film directed by Karel Lamac and starring Theo Lingen, Paul Kemp, Sonja Ziemann and Rudolf Prack. It is not a remake of the 1940 film of the same name, but a comedy about the magic tricks of a female thief in Old Baghdad. It was filmed at studios in Bendestorf, Lower Saxony. The film's sets were designed by the art directors Heinrich Beisenherz and Alfred Bütow.

The Wandering Jew (1923 film)

The Wandering Jew is a 1923 British silent fantasy film directed by Maurice Elvey and starring Matheson Lang, Hutin Britton and Malvina Longfellow. It was based on a play by E. Temple Thurston. It was remade in 1933 as The Wandering Jew.

Ulysses (1954 film)

Ulysses (Italian: Ulisse) is a 1954 Italian fantasy-adventure film based on Homer's epic poem Odyssey. The movie was directed by Mario Camerini, who co-wrote the screenplay with writer Franco Brusati. The original choice for director was Georg Wilhelm Pabst but he quit at the last minute. The film's cinematographer Mario Bava co-directed the Polyphemus Cyclops segment (uncredited).

In the film Silvana Mangano plays two roles, as Penelope, the faithful wife of Ulysses and the sorceress, Circe. American star Kirk Douglas plays the Greek hero, Ulysses. Anthony Quinn plays Antinous. The tremendous success of this film led to the making of Hercules (1957), which was credited with igniting the Italian peplum craze of the 1960s.


UtsunoMiko (宇宙皇子), also written Utsu no Miko, is a Japanese historical fantasy light novel series written by Keisuke Fujikawa (藤川桂介) and illustrated by Mutsumi Inomata, which was later adapted into an anime of the same title. The story is set in the late Asuka Period to the Nara Period, and follows the trials of the title character Utsunomiko (usually shortened to Miko), the offspring of the kami of the north star. There are 52 Utsunomiko novels, the first published in 1984, and the last published in 1998. The Utsunomiko movie premiered in 1989, followed by a second movie and a 13-episode OVA starting in 1990.

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