Epics, Myth, and Modern Magic: Where Classics and Fantasy Collide
By Alicia Matz
University of Puget Sound Paper, 2015
Introduction: I really love books. So much so, that I happen to have a personal library of over 200 of them. The majority of this rather large collection is split two ways: modern fantasy novels and books on or from the classical antiquity. I started my fantasy collection at a very young age, with the books that formed my childhood: Harry Potter. While I had always been an avid reader, these books threw me into a frenzy. I just had to get my hands on fantasy books. I kept growing and growing my collection until my senior year in high school, when, as an AP Latin student, I read Vergil’s Aeneid in Latin. Although I had always had a love for ancient Greece and Rome, reading this work changed my life, and I decided to become a Classics major. Now when I go to the bookstore, the first place I browse is the fantasy section, and then I quickly move to the history section. Because of this, I have a lot of books on both of these topics.
Ever since my freshman year I have wanted to submit a collection to the book collecting contest, but being the book aficionado that I am, I struggled to narrow down a theme. Through the years I started projects on my passion for classics, my really cool collection of fantasy novels, and Tolkien. But this year, it struck me: why not combine them. There has been a recent trend in studies of Classical reception (that is, how modern works incorporate works from the ancient world) in looking at how modern science fiction and fantasy have been influenced by classical antiquity. Most people look at me funny when I tell them that I love this sort of thing. They question why I would want to research classics in modern fantasy when “clearly” these works are more influenced by medieval times than antiquity. However, I have always had a sneaking suspicion that there was more of a connection between ancient Greece and Rome and the fantasy genre than most people think. However, I did not have much to justify this feeling until this semester, when I decided to take a receptions class on the classics and science fiction. This class has provided me with the theoretical framework I need to make the claims I have about classics and fantasy novels. The books that I have chosen each hold a special place in my heart. Most of them are well loved and rightfully so.
Before I begin to delve deeper into the links I have found between the classic works in my bibliography and the fantasy novels, I would like to make a note about the novels I have chosen. All of the series that I have chosen are some of the most popular in today’s pop culture. I have not chosen them for their popularity but because they are some of the works that have made the biggest impressions on me, for multiple reasons. My love for J. K. Rowling’s works soon lead me to discover the Hobbit which in turn lead me to the Lord of the Rings novels. These books have also grown to be very important to me and were actually the first books that lead me to think more closely about the relationship between the classics and fantasy novels. George R. R. Martin has been lauded as the American Tolkien by many critics. The complexity and detail of his books have drawn me in deeper and deeper each time I read them. And finally, Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus holds a very special part in my heart because it incorporates three of my favorite things: Greek mythology and culture, Roman mythology and culture, and the fantasy genre.