Comic Fantasy

  • Colin Manlove


Comic fantasy has done particularly well in England, where the impulses to laugh at absurdity and to create it are both strong: carried to an extreme, these impulses can together produce preposterous worlds of wit. Comic fantasy deals with the extreme of fantasy, the impossible: it takes what we know cannot exist or hold together, and makes it do so — just.1 Sometimes it has satiric designs on us, but in England it is often pure play, there to delight. Often packed with highly diverse details and perspectives, it rejoices in the wild variety of the world and of the mind’s creations. It has become particularly developed in England since the Romantics, with their emphasis on creativity, but there are prominent examples in earlier literature.


Settle State Play World Pure Play Satanic Verse Medieval Romance 
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  1. 1.
    Cf. Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures (Transworld, 1991), p. 9: ‘The Discworld is as unreal as it is possible to be while still being just real enough to exist.’Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Marie de France, ‘Del cok e del gupil’, Fables, ed. and tr. Harriet Spiegel ( Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987 ), pp. 68–70.Google Scholar
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    Walpole, ‘The King and his Three Daughters’, Hieroglyphic Tales ( San Francisco: Mercury House, 1993 ), p. 25.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 115, 141. On 1830s extravaganzas, see Michael R. Booth, English Plays of the Nineteenth Century, V: Pantomimes, Extravaganzas and Burlesques ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976 ).Google Scholar
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    See also Roger B. Henkle, Comedy and Culture 1820–1900 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), pp. 196–9 (referring to the work of W. S. Gilbert).Google Scholar
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    Richard Garnett, The Twilight of the Gods ( Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1947 ), p. 47.Google Scholar
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    Edith Nesbit, The Phoenix and the Carpet (George Newnes, 1904), p. 137.Google Scholar
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    John Collier, Fancies and Goodnights ( Alexandra, VA: Time-Life, 1980 ), p. 266.Google Scholar
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    Roald Dahl, The BFG ( Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984 ), pp. 49–50.Google Scholar
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    Eric Thacker and Anthony Earnshaw, Wintersol (Cape, 1971), p. 8.Google Scholar
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    Thacker and Earnshaw, Musrum (Cape, 1968), pp. 8, 135, 22, 37, 46.Google Scholar
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    Pratchett, The Colour of Magic (Transworld, 1994), pp. 263, 177, 127.Google Scholar
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  15. 23.
    Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses (Viking Penguin, 1988), p. 112.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Colin Manlove 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colin Manlove
    • 1
  1. 1.University of EdinburghUK

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