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A term used to describe the vast range of non-realistic works frequently known as the ‘literature of the Fantastic’, a phrase which incorporates myths and legends, folklore and fairy tales, allegory, dream stories, science fiction, utopias, and fantasy itself. Within this framework a fantasy can be described as an internally coherent story dealing with events and worlds which are impossible. This distinguishes fantasy from science fiction which deals with possible (though often improbable) events and worlds. It also distinguishes pure or full fantasy from most supernatural fiction (which includes ghost stories, occult romances, and tales of vampires and werewolves), because supernatural fiction also tends to claim that its subject-matter is occasioned by, or instructs, the real world.

At the heart of fantasy is the kind of story J. R. R. Tolkien, its greatest exponent, called the fairy tale. By ‘fairy’ he did not mean small winged creatures, but ‘Faerie’ itself, the secondary world where marvels occur, a world impossible according to the rules of the real world, but internally coherent. Precursor versions of fully fledged secondary worlds can be found in the works of nineteenth-century writers such as George MacDonald and William Morris, and hints of Faerie illuminate many tales set mostly in the real world including much of the work of Lord Dunsany. During the twentieth century, full secondary world fantasies have flourished. These include E. R. Eddison's Mercury, C. S. Lewis's Narnia, and Tolkien's own Middle-Earth. Early American examples of full fantasies include Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar, and Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique, while noteworthy recent examples have been created by Peter S. Beagle, Terry Brooks, John Crowley, L. Sprague de Camp, Samuel R. Delany, Robert Jordan, Ursula Le Guin, Michael Swanwick, and Roger Zelazny.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Englefield Green Surrey to William Faulkner Biography