Humans are a storytelling species, and for as long as we have told stories, fantasy, in one way or another, has existed. From the oldest recorded folktales to the Epic of Gilgamesh, from Beowulf to One Thousand and One Nights, elements of fantasy have always been present in literature. As a definable literary genre, however, modern fantasy began in the 19th century, with novels such as George MacDonald’s 1858 Phantastes and William Morris’ 1896 The Well at the World’s End.
It wasn’t until the mid-20th century, however, that fantasy began to reach a wider audience and establish itself as a more “serious” genre. Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian brought sword and sorcery into the mainstream, C.S. Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, and Ursula K. Le Guin began her Earthsea series. But it was J.R.R. Tolkien who changed the genre forever. His epic high fantasy novel, The Lord of the Rings, remains the most influential work of modern fantasy fiction ever written.
All of this, of course, would have been impossible without imagination. Middle-earth wouldn’t exist, there would be no adventures for Alice in Wonderland, and dragons would never have flown above Westeros. Thankfully, we have fantasy authors, for whom imagination lies at the very heart of their craft. As the following quotes show, they have a deep love and respect for the magical power of the imagination.
I believe that dreams — day dreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain-machinery whizzing — are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent, and therefore to foster civilization.
— L. Frank Baum
For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition.
— C.S. Lewis
Imagination, not intelligence, made us human.
— Terry Pratchett
I think the imagination is the single most useful tool mankind possesses. It beats the opposable thumb. I can imagine living without my thumbs, but not without my imagination.
— Ursula K. Le Guin
I seem to move easily between the world of imagination and the world of reality, one inspiring the other. I’ve tended to use my imagination to confront reality, rather than escape it. Maybe that’s the secret.
— Michael Moorcock
In A Song of Ice and Fire, I take stuff from the Wars of the Roses and other fantasy things, and all these things work around in my head and somehow they jell into what I hope is uniquely my own. But I don’t know where it comes from, yet it comes — it’s always come. If I was a religious guy, I’d say it’s a gift from God, but I’m not, so I can’t say that.
— George R.R. Martin
I want you, as a reader, to experience what I experience, to let that other world, that imaginary world that I have created, tell you things about the real world. I want to kick-start your imagination and let you discover the places it can take you.
— Terry Brooks
The mental power of image-making is one thing, or aspect; and it should appropriately be called Imagination. The perception of the image, the grasp of its implications, and the control, which are necessary to a successful expression, may vary in vividness and strength: but this is a difference of degree in Imagination, not a difference in kind.
— J.R.R. Tolkien
Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know.
— Neil Gaiman
Fairy stories loosen the chains of the imagination. They give you things to think with — images to think with — and the sense that all kinds of things are possible. While at the same time being ridiculous or terrifying or consolatory. Or something else altogether, as well.
— Philip Pullman
The more imagination the reader has, being an untrained reader, the more he will do for himself. He will, at a mere hint from the author, flood wretched material with suggestion and never guess that he is himself chiefly making what he enjoys.
— C.S. Lewis
Nothing awesome has happened without imagination. You can go to the Wright Brothers, the first people to create an airplane, and say: “This is a fantasy flying in the air,” and if you don’t have the creativity and imagination to imagine a different world, you are never gonna do anything wonderful.
— Brandon Sanderson
Photo credit: waldemarbrandt67w/ Unsplash