What is Gaslamp Fantasy?
Written by Terri Windling
Our latest anthology, Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, is a book dedicated to tales of Gaslamp Fantasy: a genre of stories set in magical versions of 19th century England.
We’ve chosen the term Gaslamp Fantasy for our book rather than the other common appellation, Victorian Fantasy—for in fact these stories can take place at any time during the 1800s, from the Regency years early in the century to Queen Victoria’s long reign (1837-1901). Although commonly set in England itself, Gaslamp tales can also unfold in Britain’s former colonies—anywhere that British culture has been, or remains, a dominant force. Steampunk fiction (which blends 19th century fantasy settings with science fiction elements) is only one form of the diverse range of fiction that makes up the Gaslamp Fantasy genre. There’s also historical fantasy (without Steampunk trappings), dark fantasy with a deliciously gothic bent, romantic tales, detective tales, enchanted tales set in English boarding schools, and Fantasy of Manners: a brand of magical fiction that owes more to Jane Austen, William Thackeray, and Anthony Trollope than to C.S.Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.
Why, it might be asked, are so many of us in the fantasy field so fascinated by the 19th century? Perhaps because the culture of the period was itself awash in fantasy. At no other time and place in Anglo-American history were magical stories as widely read by the general public; never was there more interest in all elements of the supernatural. Bestselling works of fantasy literature were published for readers of all ages, “fairy art” hung on the walls of respectable galleries, and a passion for supernatural romances swept through the theatre, ballet, and opera worlds from the 1830s onward. Throughout the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution created enormous societal upheaval, disrupting old rural ways of life and transforming the British countryside. Fantasy provided both an escape from these pressing issues and a way to address them through the metaphoric language of myth and symbolism.
Today, as our own Technological Revolution causes sweeping societal change and upheaval, many of us turn to fantasy for the very same reasons: to escape the modern world…and, perhaps, to understand it just a little bit better when we return.
If you are interested in exploring this genre further, here are some wonderful novels we can recommend, from both the Adult and Young Adult Fantasy shelves:
- Homunculus by James P. Blaylock
- A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
- Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
- Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand
- Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter
- Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja
- Lost by Gregory Maguire
- Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
- The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
- The Prestige by Christopher Priest
- Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
- Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
- Possession by A.S. Byatt
For a longer list of recommended reading, see the back of Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells.
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