Fantasy stories have always been with us. They illuminate the odd and the uncanny, the wondrous and the fantastic: all the things we know are lurking just out of sight—on the other side of the looking-glass, beyond the music of the impossibly haunting violin, through the twisted trees of the ancient woods. The Big Book of Classic Fantasy is essential reading for anyone who’s never forgotten the stories that first inspired feelings of astonishment and wonder.
The primary quality of this anthology is its sheer readability, its exuberance, range and level of esthetic accomplishment and sheer writerly craft. These stories need take no back seat to any 'literary' specimens in terms of sophisticated prose, emotional or philosophical depth, or richness of characterization. Far from some dry historical and academic tome, the book provides hours and hours of pure entertainment. Although nearly half of the book consists of stories from the nineteenth century, there is nothing fusty about them, and they embody the word 'classic' in the perfect sense of betokening something imperishable and worthy of any era ... the reader is never put at a distance: They feel intense and fresh and intimate ... Once the reader has satiated himself or herself on the pure narrative joy to be found here, thanks to the curatorial prowess of the VanderMeers, it’s also a pleasure to trace the many links among the included stories ... This feast of almost one hundred extravagant, unnerving, baffling, reassuring, unearthly, unpredictable stories forms...a lens and window, artfully assembled by two master artificers of the unknown.
There is indeed a banquet in these pages, with selections ranging broadly across time and languages: a dozen works-in-translation jostle next to instantly recognizable names like Jules Verne, E. M. Forster, and Mary Shelley. Our editors have made efforts, slightly strained efforts, to provide a hyper-inclusive Table of Contents; there are names here that even die-hard fantasy fans will find odd or rare, and there are other inclusions that seem designed to be unpredictable ... The Big Book of Classic Fantasy isn’t perfect, of course; the VanderMeers push the advent of 'classic' back too far in time to keep many of the distinctions of 'fantasy' usefully defined. But even this slightly amorphous scheme has payoffs, since it leads to a series of surprising reading combinations.
Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Big Book of Classic Fantasy, by challenging the limited perspective of Anglo supremacy still common in the genre, easily outclasses its recent peers. Like their 2016 effort The Big Book of Science Fiction, it is a thorough attempt to broaden and update the classics, making them altogether more reflective of a diverse, multifarious precedent, and quite a bit stranger in the bargain ... here is a distinct feeling of fresh air in The Big Book of Classic Fantasy where little-known Yiddish surrealists and Japanese wizardry mingle politely with crusty old stalwarts like Poe and E. T. A. Hoffmann ... This book is not a refinement or distillation of classic fantasy, but an interrogation of it, a broadening of the space of its possibilities ... The Big Book of Classic Fantasy by embracing the strange and the esoteric, shows that classic fantasy has always been a more complex imaginative space, and it exceeds its brief to provide new views of the fey things lurking just out of sight.