Today’s topic is fantasy that’s not classified as fantasy in the genre sense — magical realism, maybe, or literary fiction that invokes the occasional mythological being or takes place in a plainly-secondary setting (e.g., many of Margaret Atwood’s tales, though those edge closer to science fiction than fantasy).
My personal fave is Stephen King’s seven-volume Dark Tower sequence, which in truth wanders all over the genre map. He’s mainly classified as a horror writer, for example, and the series definitely has its horrific elements. But there’s also a heavy Western aesthetic, Romantic poetry (Browning, specifically), and some science fiction — AIs gone insane, mutants, time travel. Yet the series captivates me most of all with its evocation of classic fantasy such as Lud-in-the-Mist, and subversion of the standard tropes of fantasy. Lud in King’s world more closely resembles the setting of “Escape From New York” than Hope Mirlees’ novel. And stock magical props such as the Wizard’s Rainbow glass balls, for example — powerful magical talismans that resemble the crystal balls seen in Harry Potter and elsewhere — are depicted here as objects of subtle Jungian evil. (Speaking of Harry Potter… I will never look at a Golden Snitch the same way again.)
And while it’s hinted that a nuclear exchange occurred at some point in the past, the Gunslinger’s world is as warped as it is because magic — not science, or at least not science by itself — has gotten so powerful, gone so haywire, that it has more terrible effects than any mere nuclear war.
I think I learned more about the potential uses of magic as a fantasy tool from these books than from any doorstopper trilogy, including Tolkien’s.