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The Odyssey
by Homer (circa 800BC)


Homer's second epic poem, following on from The Iliad, is the heroic tale of Odysseus and his ten-year journey back to Greece following the Trojan War. Gods, goddesses, nymphs, sirens and monsters make for a rousingly good tale of adventure with plenty of sex, action and intrigue. Scholarly debate still surrounds the work, but the beginnings of modern fantasy are definitely here.





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Beowulf
Author Unknown (circa 700AD)


Epic poem probably composed during the Anglo-Saxon settlement of England in the 7th century. Many of its key elements - heroes, monsters, mythic theology - are quite common in religious writings. What sets Beowulf apart is that many believe it was composed for pure entertainment, albeit with a decidedly Christian bent. Irish poet Seamus Heaney's translation (2000) was a surprise bestseller.





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Inferno
by Dante Alighieri (1308-21)


The first and most famous part of Dante's Divine Comedy, generally recognised as one of the most significant literary works of the Middle Ages. Escorted by the Latin poet Virgil the author takes a trip through the nine circles of Hell. Fortunately, those checking out the ride won't suffer the fate warned of at the Gate of Hell - "Abandon all hope, you who enter here". Brilliant.





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Le Morte Darthur
by Sir Thomas Malory (1485)


Malory was in effect the first great fantasy anthologist - gathering together some well-known French and English Arthurian romances, adding some original touches and publishing them in this volume. The most famous renditions here are the stories of the Quest of the Holy Grail, the affair between Launcelot and Guinevere, and the breaking of the Knights of the Round Table.





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The Faerie Queen
by Edmund Spenser (1590)


Dedicated to Elizabeth I, 'The Virgin Queen', Spenser married Arthurian romance and Italian renaissance epics into one of the most influential poems in the English language. Each book of the poem recounts the quest of a knight to achieve a virtue. There are dragons, witches, an enchanted mirror, and even a little sex-appeal of sorts. Underneath it all there was politics and morality.





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A Midsummer Night's Dream
by William Shakespeare (1600)


Eternally popular Shakespearean comedy about lovers and fairies in the woods of ancient Athens. The story has three threads, all drawn together in the end through typically farcical circumstances - with the King of the Fairies and his servant Puck driving the mayhem. One of the Bard's best, possibly his funniest and definitely his most fantastical.





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Gulliver's Travels
by Jonathan Swift (1726)


While the honour of launching modern fantasy indisputably goes to William Morris, Gulliver is certainly an important step along the way. A shipwrecked castaway in mysterious lands encounters races of little people, giants, scientists, philosophers and brutish Yahoos. A subversive political satire of the highest order and one that remains popular to this day.





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Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales
by Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm (1812)


The Brothers Grimm reputedly scoured German peasantry in order to make truthful renditions of these tales, although many critics would argue the point. Regardless, it is hard to miss with a lineup like Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood and others. Despite claims some of this material was adapted, the Brothers significantly contributed to modern folklore studies.


The Origins of Fantasy
Works that paved the way for the pioneers of fantasy
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