Fantasy is an extensive, amorphous and ambiguous genre, resistant to attempts at quick definition. It can incorporate the serious and the comic, the scary and the whimsical, the moral and the anarchic. It can be ‘high’ taking place in alternative worlds or ‘low’ set in the world we know. Or it can combine the two. Besides texts set in other worlds, fantasy includes stories of magic, ghosts, talking animals and superhuman heroes, of time travel, hallucinations and dreams. It overlaps with other major genres, notably the fairy tale and the adventure story, but it intersects also with almost any other kind of children’s book: the moral tale in the case of Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies (1863), say, or the school story in the case of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books (1997–2007). The various forms of fantasy are, as Brian Attebery has put it, ‘fuzzy sets, meaning that they are defined not by boundaries but by a center’ and ‘there may be no single quality that links an entire set’.1

But as a concept, fantasy is clearly central to any understanding of children’s literature. Some have argued that fantasy is the very core of children’s literature, and that children’s literature did not properly exist until the imagination had been given an entirely free rein to entertain children in unreservedly fantastical books like Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) or Edward Lear’s Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets (1870). Indeed, Wonderland, like Neverland, Narnia, Oz or Tom’s Midnight Garden in Philippa Pearce’s 1958 novel, can be regarded


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