The Fantasy Novel
Goldman published The Princess Bride at a time when the fantasy novel was gaining popularity. Much of the new interest in fantasy was fueled by the success of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1937) and the Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954–55), which became extremely popular in the United States in the late 1960s. C. S. Lewis’s seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia (1950–56), written for children but also read by adults, also contributed to the growing interest in fantasy literature. The first great fantasy work to be published in the United States following the wave of interest in Tolkien was Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy (1968–72), written for young adults but read by a far wider group for its psychological insight. The trilogy is set in the fantasy islands of Earthsea and shows the coming of age of a young wizard. Another of the most popular fantasy writers of the period was Terry Brooks, whose first book, The Sword of Shannara (1977) reached the New York Times best-seller list. Brooks followed this with many other books during the 1980s and 1990s, making him one of the most successful fantasy writers of all time. He had, and still has, a large following among young-adult readers.
With the growth of fantasy literature, a scholarly interest in defining and categorizing it also began to grow. For Ann Swinfen, in In Defense of Fantasy: A Study of the Genre in English and American Literature since 1945, ‘‘The essential ingredient of all fantasy is ‘the marvellous’ . . . anything outside the normal space-time continuum of the everyday world.’’ Brian Attebery, in The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature: From Irving to Le Guin, offered another broad definition of fantasy: a story that ‘‘treat[s] an impossibility as if it were true.’’ He suggested that fantasy can then be further defined into subcategories based on elements such as ‘‘the marvelous within the story, the orientation of the tale toward wonder or its obverse, horror, the location of the supernatural in another world or in this,’’ and other elements.
Among the subcategories of fantasy, many of which overlap, are high fantasy, such as Tolkien, in which there is a titanic moral struggle between good and evil; animal fantasy, which features talking animals, as in Richard Adams’s Watership Down, published in 1972; heroic fantasy, sometimes also called ‘‘sword and sorcery,’’ which focuses on action and adventure; historical fantasy; time travel fantasy; romantic fantasy; and others.
The Princess Bride is hard to place in any one fantasy category. With its vaguely medieval setting and battle between good and evil, it resembles high fantasy, and there are also elements in the story of heroic and romantic fantasy. But often these kinds of fantasies are serious works, in the sense that they do not contain much humor. In contrast, Goldman’s book bubbles over with humorous characters, dialogue, and scenes. This aligns him most closely with other fantasies from the same period that employ liberal doses of humor. One example is Bored of the Rings (1969), by Henry N. Beard and Douglas C. Kenney, a comic parody of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The popular ‘‘Xanth’’ books by Piers Anthony, beginning with A Spell for Chameleon (1977), provide more examples of comic fantasy, as do British author Terry Pratchett’s ‘‘Discworld’’ series, beginning with The Color of Magic in 1983.
Sara Constantakis (Editor), Novels for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 31, William Goldman, Published by Gale, Cengage Learning, 2010.