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Masterpieces of Fantasy and Wonder

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A rich & varied collection of the best short fantasy fiction of the last two centuries. Escape into the fantastic worlds of Charles Dickens, J.M. Barrie, Graham Greene, Harlan Ellison, and others found in these 38 magical tales.


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A rich & varied collection of the best short fantasy fiction of the last two centuries. Escape into the fantastic worlds of Charles Dickens, J.M. Barrie, Graham Greene, Harlan Ellison, and others found in these 38 magical tales.

30 review for Masterpieces of Fantasy and Wonder

  1. 4 out of 5

    Werner

    Note, May 4, 2020: When I read short story collections intermittently over a long period of time, my reactions are similarly written piecemeal, while they're fresh in my mind. That gives the reviews a choppy, and often repetitive, quality. Recently, I had to condense and rearrange one of these into a unified whole because of Goodreads' length limit; and I was so pleased with the result that I decided to give every one of these a similar edit! Accordingly, I've now edited this one. Hartwell is a r Note, May 4, 2020: When I read short story collections intermittently over a long period of time, my reactions are similarly written piecemeal, while they're fresh in my mind. That gives the reviews a choppy, and often repetitive, quality. Recently, I had to condense and rearrange one of these into a unified whole because of Goodreads' length limit; and I was so pleased with the result that I decided to give every one of these a similar edit! Accordingly, I've now edited this one. Hartwell is a respected anthologist in the field of speculative fiction, so when I got a good deal on this collection, I grabbed it up. His objective here (set forth in his short Introduction) was to bring together a spectrum of quality works that were not often anthologized, and wherever possible to represent authors not usually associated with the genre, and works that stretch its conventions and definitions. (Indeed, his own definition of "fantasy" is pretty eclectic; I'd consider many of the stories here to be what I call "supernatural fiction," because they're set solidly in this world, not a fantasy world.) Chronologically, the scope spans the period from the early 1800s to his own time (1989), with a pretty even mix of 19th and 20th-century writers. There are 38 selections, by 35 writers; James Barrie is represented by three excerpts from his novel The Little White Bird, in which he created the character of Peter Pan, better known from the author's later eponymous stage play. (I didn't read these, or the two Jack Vance selections, taken from his Cugel's Saga, part of his Dying World series. My preference with novels is usually to read the whole thing, not sundered fragments of it.) Most of the authors are British or American, but there are a smattering of works from other countries as well. Hartwell's arrangement, though, is neither by nationality nor chronological; he's grouped the material instead into five thematic blocs: "Enchantments," "Wonders," "Creatures," "Worlds," and "Adventures." Each author's work is preceded by a helpful bio-critical note about a paragraph long, but the exact dates of the selections aren't usually provided. The stories vary widely in tone, from raucously or dryly humorous, through serious, to poignant and touching, to dark and grim. It should also be noted that, though these are "short" stories, several of them are at the longer end of that continuum: 40-50+ pages or so. I didn't care for (and to be truthful, didn't finish) Rudy Rucker's "Inside Out," which had some sexual content of what's essentially a menage sort, which for me is very off-putting. Another one which didn't really work for me was Brazilian writer Murilo Rubiao's surrealist piece, "The Dragons." (I don't generally get into surrealism, so perhaps that's just me.) Also, Suzette Haden Elgin's "Lest Levitation Come Upon Us" was not my personal cup of tea; explaining why would take more time and attention than the tale deserved, but suffice it to say that here Haden's usual demeaning reverse-sexist treatment of men (although it's there) was actually overshadowed by even more offensive issues. (I'm not a fan of Elgin's work in general, though her "For the Sake of Grace" is a fine exception to that.) Overall, though, the quality of the stories is pretty high. (Since the effects of short stories often depends on their endings, they can be harder than novels to review individually without spoilers.) I'd read four of the stories before (and have commented on at least some of them elsewhere), all of them good: Frank Stockton's "The Griffin and the Minor Canon," L. Frank Baum's "The Enchanted Buffalo" (which appears in Tales Before Tolkien: The Roots of Modern Fantasy), Jack Finney's wonderful "The Third Level," and Edith Nesbit's "The Last of the Dragons," which I re-read here. The latter is Edwardian, but it shows that the contemporary sub-genre of reworked fairy tales with subverted conventions and tongue-in-cheek humor isn't a new idea; Nesbit's delightful sword-wielding princess (she insisted on learning fencing) and likable dragon would be right at home in, say, Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest. German World War II veteran Johannes Bobrowski's "The Mouse Festival," has almost no speculative content; the personification of the Moon in the story can be taken as simply metaphoric language. But it is an evocative bit of general fiction, with its simple tale of an encounter between a Jewish shopkeeper and a young German soldier in the shadow of the impending Holocaust. Hartwell's inclusion of "The Parrot" by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Graham Greene's "Under the Garden" is in keeping with his stated aim; but it could be questioned whether we're dealing, in either of these, with anything that's actually of a supernatural character. IMO, the likelihood is particularly strong with the first one that Singer intends us to understand the parrot's presence as naturally explained, and the "supernatural" aspects of the character's perceptions as delusive. But both are good, solid stories of a general fiction sort. The second one especially really does evoke the sense of wonder and strangeness that straight fantasy tales often aim for, and is a deep exploration of the haunting contrasts between memory and "reality" (or IS the memory the reality?), adult and childhood perceptions of the world --and the continuing power of the latter. The first story in the book, John M. Ford's "Green Is the Color," is my favorite in this collection. It's set in the "shared universe" of Liavek, a fantasy-world city with some steam-punk features, a large and diverse population, and its full share of human vices and villainy. (I first "visited" Liavek through a couple of Charles de Lint stories set there.) Ford's magical system is decidedly original; and while I found some of the exact crucial details of how the central magical plot here worked more than a little murky, that was more than made up for by the strong characterizations, vivid atmosphere and world-building, wonderful use of evocative language, and skilled storytelling. Some of my other favorites were George MacDonald's "The Gray Wolf," a wonderously atmospheric werewolf story that left me wanting more; R. A. Lafferty's "Narrow Valley," which draws on Indian magic in the author's native Oklahoma (his style of humor here distinctly reminds me of William Saunders), and a selection from Czarist Russia, Fyodor Sologub's "Turandina," in which, as in Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter, a mortal and a fairy princess fall in love --but Sologub's tale is quite different. Other real delights were three tales, all of them actual exercises in true, other-world fantasy, and all of them written by women authors who (at least here) blend vivid imagination, moral and psychological depth of insight and beautiful use of language to create a trio of stories that are each different in many ways, but each a delight to read. Ursula LeGuin's short fiction runs a wide gamut as to quality, but "Darkness Box" is a stand-out: a perfectly-crafted evocation of a world in which time essentially stands still in a looping cycle, and there can be no death --but also no progress, growth or change. Robin McKinley's "The Princess and the Frog" re-imagines the classic fairy tale as a clash of good and evil that breathes new life and fascination into the plot. And my favorite of the three was Patricia A. McKillip's "The Harrowing of the Dragon of Hoarsbreath," with its brilliant world-building, its highly original ice dragons (who normally breathe out blasts of freezing cold, not fire) and concept of dragon "harrowing," not dragon killing, two main human characters so real you could touch them, and a use of language that's among the most beautiful and wonder-generating that I've ever read. This was my first introduction to both McKinley and McKillip. Among the 19th-century works (written in typical 19th-century diction and literary style, which won't appeal to all modern readers), both E.T.A. Hoffmann's "The King's Bride" and Fitz-James O'Brien's "The King of Nodland and His Dwarf" are “fantasy proper.” They're entertaining tales of their type, though, each with a somewhat humorous tone (more consistent in the former; and the humor of the latter tends to be of a politically satirical sort), as is that of Charles Dickens' "Prince Bull," which uses fairy tale conventions to wryly satirize real-life British bureaucracy and governmental failures during the Crimean War. Despite its title, "The Triumph of Vice," by W. S. Gilbert (one half of the famed Gilbert and Sullivan composing team), doesn't necessarily really show vice triumphant. (Like Osbert Sitwell's "Jack and the Beanstalk," this is another humorous fractured fairy tale.) Mark Twain's "The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime of Connecticut" is an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek yarn about a conscience which is a little sentient being (though not nearly so likeable as Jimminy Cricket!), who takes on physical form to confront his human, who's clearly an alter ego of Twain himself --with results that, from the conscience's point of view, leave something to be desired. As Hartwell puts it, the author "makes a moral point with an immoral tale;" the ending is wildly over the top, but that's simply a manifestation of the frontier tradition of tall-tale exaggeration. "The Hollow Land" illustrates William Morris' medievalism; but in my opinion it's not his best work --it has a dream-like quality, in which reality and the characters' perceptions and motivations often shift unpredictably or are hard to explain, giving the narrative a surreal quality that's hard to follow. But it has some vivid imagery and powerful vignettes, and a thread of surprisingly explicit Christian content (though Morris himself wasn't a believer); it's also one of the few selections here that would actually qualify as fantasy by my own narrower-than-Hartwell's definition. Two of the modern stories were set in the modern urban U.S. (New York City and New Orleans, respectively). Peter S. Beagle's "Lila the Werewolf" is a take on lycanthropy that focuses more on human relationships than on scare; while Harlan Ellison's "On the Downhill Side" (take note --this is an Ellison story I actually liked!) features two ghosts and a unicorn. Its metaphysics aren't the same as mine, but that's irrelevant; they're simply a literary conceit to set up a tale that's really about the redemptive power of love and vicarious sacrifice. (As Hartwell notes, it's not typical of Ellison's work, which of course is why I like it.) In "The Drowned Giant" (which has an indeterminate setting), J. G. Ballard trenchantly explores the modern rationalized, materialistic mindset's complete inability to respond to the wonderous and mysterious with any sense of wonder or mystery. Whether "Beyond the Dead Reef" by James Tiptree, Jr. (whose real name was Alice B. Sheldon) is science fiction or supernatural fiction isn't clear, and doesn't have to be to succeed; what is clear is that it packs a powerful cautionary message about environmental degradation and destruction from thoughtless polluting at the hands of humans. (The ugly reverse sexism of the author's "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" isn't evident here at all.) John Brunner's "The Things That Are Gods" is the last of the author's several tales of the Traveller in Black; it can be appreciated by itself, but a reader would probably benefit from having read the preceding stories in the series (which I haven't). In Margaret St. Clair's "The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles," let's just say the Gnoles' house isn't one that you'd want to visit! Finally, Anne McCaffrey's "A Proper Santa Claus" and Avram Davidson's "The Woman Who Thought She Could Read" are thought-provoking selections, and they are in one sense thematically related. (Like Le Guin's, McCaffrey's corpus of short fiction is a mixed bag as to quality, but this one is decidedly high-end.)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    I complained of this book's predecessor, Masterpieces of Fantasy and Enchantment, that some of the stories, far from being masterpieces, had been rescued from well-deserved obscurity. I didn't have the same reaction to this volume, though, even though the same editor had taken a similar approach: combine well-known genre classics with long-out-of-print pieces by famous authors, some of whom aren't usually thought of as belonging to the SFF field. At the same time I bought those two books, I also I complained of this book's predecessor, Masterpieces of Fantasy and Enchantment, that some of the stories, far from being masterpieces, had been rescued from well-deserved obscurity. I didn't have the same reaction to this volume, though, even though the same editor had taken a similar approach: combine well-known genre classics with long-out-of-print pieces by famous authors, some of whom aren't usually thought of as belonging to the SFF field. At the same time I bought those two books, I also bought The Fantasy Hall of Fame, and there's a considerable overlap in contents. This volume shares Margaret St. Clair's "The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnolls," J.G. Ballard's "The Drowned Giant," and R.A. Lafferty's "Narrow Valley" with the Hall of Fame volume, none of which, to be honest, were among my favourites in either book; the Hall of Fame shares with the first volume "Our Fair City" (Heinlein), "The Silken-Swift" (Sturgeon), "The Detective of Dreams" (Wolfe), and "Operation Afreet" (Anderson). I'd also previously read some others in this volume: Peter S. Beagle's "Lila the Werewolf," a typical Beagle piece in its beauty, its depiction of people trapped in their stereotypes, and its tragic arc; Anne McCaffrey's "A Proper Santa Claus," a powerful story about the crushing of childhood creativity and wonder; and James Tiptree, Jr.'s "Beyond the Dead Reef," which, slightly unusually for that author, focusses more on ecological disaster than on gender role disaster. There are, however, plenty of pieces that are new to me, many of which I enjoyed. John M. Ford's "Green is the Color," which opens the book, is a lovely human story filled with magic and wonder. So is Robin McKinley's version of "The Princess and the Frog". Patricia A. McKillip's "The Harrowing of the Dragon of Hoarsbreath" is magnificent and unexpected, as you'd expect from her if you've read much of her work. John Brunner's "The Things That Are Gods" is a hearty bit of sword-and-sorcery with some depth to it. I also enjoyed Osbert Sitwell's version of "Jack and the Beanstalk," something that you'll not see reprinted in many places, I suspect. Other pieces I wasn't so keen on. I've always disliked Jack Vance, whose characters use stilted dialog to convey their utter lack of any admirable qualities, and the samples in this book don't change my mind. Isaac Bashevis Singer's "The Parrot," as well as being not to my taste, had, I felt, limited claim to be in a book about "fantasy and wonder," since the fantastical element could well have been in the mind of one character. Although Graham Greene's "Under the Garden" has the same ambiguity about whether anything fantastical has actually occurred, I enjoyed it more as a story. There are rescued treasures as well, though, from Charles Dickens ("Prince Bull," a political satire), W.S. Gilbert ("The Triumph of Vice"), J.M. Barrie (the original "Peter Pan" story, which I seem to somehow have never read, though I've read Peter Pan and Wendy many times), Mark Twain ("The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut," a fine satire on the value of a conscience), Frank R. Stockton ("The Griffon and the Minor Canon," which I'd read in his own collection, though I suspect few other people have), George MacDonald ("The Gray Wolf," an early, and unusual, werewolf story), L. Frank Baum ("The Enchanted Buffalo," a blend of Western tall tale and native legend), E.T.A. Hoffmann ("The King's Bride," a quirky wonder story), Fitz-James O'Brien ("The King of Nodland and His Dwarf," another political satire with a strong anti-slavery message, by an author who died in the American Civil War), and William Morris ("The Hollow Land," a pseudomedieval tale so authentic that I felt I needed scholarly notes to explain it to me). In the first book, I felt that the editor had compiled an odd mix of often-collected 20th-century SFF stories with deservedly obscure earlier works, and that it didn't really come together into an interesting collection. Here, I felt he was much more successful, and that the stories were better chosen.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    After twenty years and two aborted attempts, I have finally finished this book. Spoilers: I didn't read everything. While there are some really great pieces like "Lest Levitation Come Upon Us" by Sizette Haden Elgin and John Brunner's "The Things That Are Gods", by and large these are not "masterpieces", and the stories grow tiresome as one approaches the end of the collection. Call me myopic, but quite a lot of the styles represented here went out of fashion a long time ago, and there's a reason After twenty years and two aborted attempts, I have finally finished this book. Spoilers: I didn't read everything. While there are some really great pieces like "Lest Levitation Come Upon Us" by Sizette Haden Elgin and John Brunner's "The Things That Are Gods", by and large these are not "masterpieces", and the stories grow tiresome as one approaches the end of the collection. Call me myopic, but quite a lot of the styles represented here went out of fashion a long time ago, and there's a reason for it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    John

    To be honest - I don't like fantasy all that much. This book probably deserves more than three stars, as I'm sure all the stories are excellent. The only reason I own this book is for the short story "Darkness Box" by Ursula K. Le Guin. It's one of the most perfectly crafted short form stories ever written! To be honest - I don't like fantasy all that much. This book probably deserves more than three stars, as I'm sure all the stories are excellent. The only reason I own this book is for the short story "Darkness Box" by Ursula K. Le Guin. It's one of the most perfectly crafted short form stories ever written!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Min

    John M. Ford's Green Is the Color, Frank R. Stockton's The Griffin and the Minor Canon, and Peter S. Beagle's Lila the Werewolf. These were the reasons I purchased this book, but I was very pleased to find other equally wonderful shorts in this compilation. I like to read good short stories now and again, and this volume has some very good ones. John M. Ford's Green Is the Color, Frank R. Stockton's The Griffin and the Minor Canon, and Peter S. Beagle's Lila the Werewolf. These were the reasons I purchased this book, but I was very pleased to find other equally wonderful shorts in this compilation. I like to read good short stories now and again, and this volume has some very good ones.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    As a teen I bought a ton of books through the Science Fiction book club, especially anthologies that had even one author I liked in them. Most of those anthologies were crap, many should have come with a warning that the stories were actually erotica, and one or two were keepers. This is one of the keeper, in fact, it's one of the dozen or so books I took to college, entirely on my deep love for the very first story, Green is the Color. I don't remember most of the other stories in this (and hav As a teen I bought a ton of books through the Science Fiction book club, especially anthologies that had even one author I liked in them. Most of those anthologies were crap, many should have come with a warning that the stories were actually erotica, and one or two were keepers. This is one of the keeper, in fact, it's one of the dozen or so books I took to college, entirely on my deep love for the very first story, Green is the Color. I don't remember most of the other stories in this (and haven't looked at it in a while), but I remember that I liked most of them, and can't think of any that I outright hated. And then there's Green is the Color. I don't know what it is about this story. I could read it over and over. It's so gorgeously written, so vivid, and so strange. It takes place in Liavek, a shared world (the only other Liavek story I've read is by Patricia C. Wrede, and is wonderful, too) and was the first time I'd heard of Liavek and a shared world story. (Meaning that someone has created this world, and any writers who like can set a story or novel there.) The story features a young healer, a child with chronic nightmares, and a very angry toymaker. Before I discovered Connie Willis' Even the Queen, this was hands down my favorite short story. It's still in the top five. So, to sum up, this is a good fantasy anthology, and the lead story (which is probably considered a novella, it's quite long), is my favorite.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Howard Brazee

    Lots of old stories giving a history of Fantasy.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    DNS 7/16/2021

  9. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey

    Some of the stories are better than others, but genuinely all of them are good. You'll never get bored reading this collection. Some of the stories are better than others, but genuinely all of them are good. You'll never get bored reading this collection.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jessika

    I'm seriously ashamed by how long this book took me to read. I'm going to blame the typical cliche: life got in the way. Between planning a wedding & now planning a move, I just had a hard time getting sucked into this one. As with any anthology, I liked some stories while I disliked others. To be fair, I don't think any of these stories were "bad"--I just didn't have ample time to sit down & really read & give them the thought and analysis they deserved. I'd get partway through a story, have to I'm seriously ashamed by how long this book took me to read. I'm going to blame the typical cliche: life got in the way. Between planning a wedding & now planning a move, I just had a hard time getting sucked into this one. As with any anthology, I liked some stories while I disliked others. To be fair, I don't think any of these stories were "bad"--I just didn't have ample time to sit down & really read & give them the thought and analysis they deserved. I'd get partway through a story, have to put it down, and then when I'd pick it back up, I'd be lost. This was a great collection of some lesser-known stories from some of the fantasy genre's greats. I just wasn't personally feeling it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Johanna Haas

    Broad look at the fantasy genre from its beginnings to the eighties. This book includes short stories from many of the early voices in fantasy - Morris, Twain, Dickens - as well as more contemporary masters - LeGuin, Ellison, McKinley. It also spans fantasy beyond mere sword and sorcery - into mystery, alien worlds, horror, and works that can only be broadly described as speculative fiction.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Velveeta

    just started reading it, only about 1/3 of the way thru, but i like the themed sections and the story choices so far. have a lot of hartwell anthologies, so i am looking forward to seeing if the other collections match the (so far) quality of this one.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kristie

    I was excited that this book had stories by old, classic authors, like Dickens and Twain, and by modern authors as well. However, I really didn't care for many of the stories, although there were a few I enjoyed. Also didn't like the introduction to each story written by the compiler. I was excited that this book had stories by old, classic authors, like Dickens and Twain, and by modern authors as well. However, I really didn't care for many of the stories, although there were a few I enjoyed. Also didn't like the introduction to each story written by the compiler.

  14. 4 out of 5

    bluetyson

    Masterpieces of Fantasy and Wonder by David G. Hartwell (1994)

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lyman Flenner

    Interesting collection of early stories of the genre

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Gallan

    58/656

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sheila

  18. 5 out of 5

    Krinn DNZ

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mohamed Lotfy

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ashok Banker

  21. 5 out of 5

    Neil Shelley

  22. 5 out of 5

    Erin

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mythie

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

  25. 4 out of 5

    Courteny

  26. 4 out of 5

    Pghbekka

  27. 5 out of 5

    Annie Seil

  28. 4 out of 5

    Fuzz

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sue

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gary

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