From the 27th of October until the 25th of February, the British Library is hosting their “Fantasy: Realms of the Imagination” exhibition. Accompanied by a publication featuring essays relating to the genre (and prefaced by Neil Gaiman), and branded by a gorgeous, intricate illustration by Sveta Dorosheva, the exhibition takes on the depth of a complex, exciting, and increasingly adored genre.
As a keen reader and fan of the fantasy genre, I decided to make the trip to Kings Cross in London at the beginning of January. At the entrance to the exhibition, there’s an archway, painted a deep, forest green and adorned with fairy lights, giving a sense perhaps of stepping into the enchanted woods of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Just beyond this, attendees are greeted by a The Ancient Mappe of Fairyland by Bernard Sleigh and an insight into the influence of folk and fairy tales on the genre of fantasy.
giving a sense perhaps of stepping into the enchanted woods of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The exhibition as a whole takes on a number of elements of fantasy, from showcasing Studio Ghibli’s 2001 film Princess Mononoke, accompanied by the illuminated forest spirits the film features, to Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis retold by Matthue Roth and illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason. Alongside an exploration of origins, there are also displays discussing tropes, common character archetypes, and settings. I found the analysis of forests in fantasy particularly fascinating: “they represent the edges of the known, civilised world as well as the wild, unconscious workings of the human psyche.” Insights like this make the exhibition a tool in further understanding the books we read, considering the choices made in creating stories and the reasons behind these.
The inclusion of such a variety of works thoroughly enhanced the exhibition – I was both excited to engage with familiar material such as the work of Terry Pratchett, and keen to learn what else there is within the genre. With displays ranging from Warhammer Fantasy Battle to the works of Christina Rossetti, and the inclusion of media clips such as the 2006 film Pan’s Labyrinth and Skyrim, I was certainly clued in to which avenues I next wanted to explore.
“Fantasy: Realms of Imagination” is a succinct exploration of the breath of the genre, covering not only millenia of works – from writings of Homer to Buffy the Vampire Slayer – but investigating also the histories, tropes, and origins of fantasy. For those already fans of the genre, or those curious about what could be waiting for them in the pages of a Discworld novel or beyond the title screen of Dark Souls, this exhibition is an engaging and exciting step into the fantastical.
Information regarding the remaining events linked to the exhibition can be found at this link. A number of these take place online as well as in person, so can be enjoyed without making the journey to London.