William Morris wrote and self-published his first fantasy novel set in a totally invented world, The Wood Beyond The World (left). It was 1895.
Morris was famous at the time, a protean figure in Victorian England. He was an active socialist, painter, designer, and owner of the Kelmscott Press.
But almost no-one knew that he had just invented a new genre, fantasy, that would spawn in later generations the work of such diverse creators as Tolkein, CS Lewis, JK Rowling, Neil Gaiman and George Lucas. He followed Wood with The Well at the World's End (1896) and The Water of the Wondrous Isles (1897). Most likely he would have written more if death hadn't intervened.
No-one knows why he wrote these late novels. Well is considered his masterpiece, and at the time was one of the longest stories ever written (228, 000 words). Tolkein's Lord is twice as long, but that was published as a trilogy. I've reread Well more times than I've reread Lord. It's a book to get lost in, full of characters and wonder. It's easy to see where it inspired Tolkein. In fact in one small section it includes a character called Gandolf, who does some magic... I also love his Wood and earlier The Story of the Glittering Plain. Lewis and Tolkein were members of a small literary club of professors and writers called The Inklings. They would get together and talk about literature and whatever they were working on at the time. Undoubtedly they discussed Morris. Lewis once said that after he discovered Morris he "got all the Morris he could get". You can get some here.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
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