The Secret History of Fantasy

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Beagle notes, in the introduction to The Secret History of Fantasy, there were who simply wanted more Tolkien rather than more like Tolkien. He tells the chilling story of how Judy-Lynn Del Rey gave him the manuscript of The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, hoping he would say a few appreciative words about it. The Secret History of Fantasy stands as a reminder that while fantasy is now a commodity, some writers still write stories which do not fit the generic template, though the markets remain limited.

The acknowledgements page shows that while half of these stories were published in genre magazines, the others appeared in a variety of markets, reflecting the former eclecticism of mainstream publications where fantasy was concerned. This collection avoids becoming an exercise in nostalgia because the stories are presented without much in the way of historical or theoretical positioning.

Context, such as it is, comes from articles by Ursula K. Le Guin and David Hartwell, recapitulating the history of fantasy publishing, and the critical reception of fantasy by mainstream critics.

The Secret History of Fantasy by Peter S. Beagle, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®

This is familiar ground and both essays seem slightly detached, perhaps because they are reprinted from elsewhere. I would have preferred a more direct engagement between stories and commentary, something to develop the argument. Likewise, we learn nothing about the authors other than their names. Boyle, who are published in the mainstream are recognised for their offbeat stories. The stories do indeed remind us that there is a greater variety to fantasy than many suppose but there are no surprises for the wide-ranging reader.