In his The Evolution of Modern Fantasy
author Jamie Williamson makes a monster of a claim for the importance of the Lin Carter-edited Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series (BAFS). Prior to the BAFS, Williamson claims, the literary entity that we today widely recognize as “fantasy” did not exist. Many authors were writing fantastic tales of Faerie or blood and thunder prior to the BAFS (principal run 1969-1974), but none were consciously working in the confines of an established genre. No one talked about “the fantasy genre” like we do today; no authors proclaimed themselves “fantasy writers.”
But with the mass-market paperback publication of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
in the 1960s, the Lancer Conan Saga shortly thereafter, and the appearance of the BAFS and their famous unicorn colophon, “fantasy” became a thing. Says Williamson:
By 1974, then, a discrete genre, with a definition and a canon, had demonstrably emerged. Such a thing had not existed at all in 1960, and even in early 1969 it had consisted of a cross section of work appearing as a subbranch of science fiction (Sword and Sorcery) or as books for young readers, with a few titles presented as loosely “Tolkienian.”
(Note: I covered this in a little more detail on DMR Blog this past June
on what would have been the late Carter’s 89th birthday).
In short, the BAFS collected disparate writers of fantastic
material (Williamson uses the term “literary mavericks” which is apt) and
published them in a mass-market paperback series, creating a story in of
itself—the story of fantasy.
that sink in a moment.
This was a landmark occurrence, and the BAFS,
though they reportedly did not sell particularly well and dissolved as a series
after the sale of Ballantine Books to Random House, remain an incredibly
important artifact for historians, collectors, and genre fans. While I don’t
think all of Carter’s choices were perfect, there is vast storehouse of great
reading in the series. The Broken Sword.
The King of Elfland’s Daughter. Zothique. The Well at the World’s End. The
. And, prior to Carter’s term as editor, The Lord of the Rings
, and A Voyage to
So yeah, the BAFS were hugely important to the development
of fantasy as we know it today. But I believe another, lesser-known publication
shares equal footing in the development of fantasy fiction.
I’m talking of
course about Amra.