Influences of British Fantasy Authors of the 60s to 80s

So I did a post about the influences of the authors in the early wave of Epic Fantasy that went big commercially in the 70s to 90s, and it got me thinking about the influences of other waves of fantasy authors.

Not that this following group should be considered a wave in a lot of ways. They can be grouped together by nationality and period, but there’s no sun-genre springing out of their works. One might tentatively suggest shared traits, and even more tentatively suggest the presence of such traits in current British fantasy fiction (many of whose authors will list some of the following as influences), but that doesn’t equate to a sub-genre in and of itself.

Still, insomuch as British fantasy fiction had a national character at this time, these authors, as some of its foremost proponents, are obvious places to look. And here are their influences.

Michael Moorcock was a hugely influential figure in the 60s and onwards, an influence that seems to be getting revived. Some of his own listed influences include Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mervyn Peake, Greek mythology, Fritz Leiber, Bertolt Brecht, Poul Anderson, Anthony Skene, Fletcher Pratt, and Leigh Brackett. While Tolkien is emphatically not listed as an influence, I wonder if he’s emphatically not an influence to the point where the attempt to escape his presence qualifies as one. That’s probably for better minds than me to figure out.

David Gemmell achieved a great deal of popularity for his bloody-handed takes on morality and heroism. What he was less capable at was listing literary influences. You can get the name of Louis L’Amour, JRR Tolkien, RE Howard, and Gordon R Dickson out of his interviews but even then, you’ll hear him talking about liking their books/characters rather than them being influences. One gets the feeling he just didn’t think in these terms.

Finding Sir Terry Pratchett’s stated influences can be just as tricky. His works abound with references, but searching for his actual given influences reveals a less ready hand. The given ones I found were PG Wodehouse, Carl Hiaasen, GK Chesterton, Tove Jansson, and Richmal Crompton. That’s almost certainly not a full list, not for a man whose work clearly shows his knowledge of Leiber and Moorcock, Dickens and Shakespeare, but it is what I found.

Robert Holdstock has achieved some cult notoriety for the Mythago Wood cycle, although I’m not sure how much the ideas in that have lived on. He frequently cited the Sci-Fi TV show The Quartermass Experiment as an influence, and HG Wells and Jules Verne as the two biggest of his childhood. Other influences include Michael Moorcock, Keith Roberts, Brian Aldiss, William Golding, Robert Silverberg, Nigel Kneale, and Naomi Mitchison

Neil Gaiman’s influences are listed very neatly on wikipedia (well, semi-neatly) and here’s the list: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, Mary Shelley, Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Moorcock, Dave Sim, Alan Moore, Steve Ditko, Will Eisner, Ursula K. Le Guin, Harlan Ellison, Lord Dunsany, G. K. Chesterton, RA Lafferty, Roger Zelzany, Samuel R Delany, Angela Carter, Gene Wolfe, and Hope Mirrlees

Tanith Lee isn’t held up as much as she should but it feels like there’s plenty of authors who look up to he. Angela Carter’s name came up a great deal when looking through lists of her influences. There’s also a very like long list on wikipedia, that includes Graham Greene, Rebecca West, Elizabeth Bowen, Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, Theodore Sturgeon, Jane Gaskell, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, William Blake, Anton Chekov, Harold Pinter, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Ibsen, August Strindberg, Ivan Turgenev, Ivan Bunin, James, Rosemary Sutcliff, Mary Renault, Jean Rhys, John Fowles, John le Carré, Brontë family, E.M. Forster, W. Somerset Maugham, Isabel Allende, Margaret Atwood, Ruth Rendell, Lawrence Durrell, Elroy Flecker, Ted Hughes, Virginia Woolf, C.S. Lewis. I’ve also seen Daphne du Maurier and Clark Ashton Smith cited too.

Last but never least is Diana Wynne Jones, another of the crowd who’s slightly difficult to find. That could be because she had an unusual childhood and only discovered a lot of authors later on in life. Who can be found named are Geoffrey Chaucer, William Langland, the unknown author of Gawain and the Green Knight, JRR Tolkien, Rudyard Kipling, Elizabeth Goudge, P.L. Travers, Sir Thomas Malory, the Brothers Grimm, and the various storytellers behind the Arabian Nights

Looking at the data, we see a list that’s reasonably well influenced by Tolkien (Jones, Gemmell), Lewis (Lee) or both (Gaiman). Beyond that, other British fantasists aren’t particularly well represented other than Moorcock himself (Gaiman, Holdstock). Gaiman was influenced by Dunsany and Mirrlees; Moorcock by Mervyn Peake.

There is a fair amount of American fantasy and other SFF on the list, some from the Sword & Sorcery tradition and some from others. Moorcock seems the most influenced by it, which in turn passes onto others, but only Jones seems without some sort of influence from there.

There’s the usual smattering of historical and adventure authors. There’s a few perhaps unexpected duplicate names in Angela Carter (who apparently I must know more about) and GK Chesterton. I think perhaps the most interesting thing is the authors who talk about going back to the taproot. Moorcock and Jones did; Gemmell said he wrote fantasy fiction rather than historical because that way he could make them end how he wanted them to. Holdstock’s interviews show a deep appreciation of myth, and Pratchett’s love of the Brewster’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is well known, which is something he bonded with Gaiman over. I didn’t find it with Tanith Lee because I wasn’t looking for it at the time but Tales From The Flat Earth screams direct inspiration.

If there’s commonality between this group of authors, it is the lack of it. They were writing at a time of blurred genre lines and without commercial pressure. Most were either trying to deliberately experimental, or simply didn’t know or care much about previous expressions of the genre. They were familiar with Tolkien and Lewis, but not so much the influences behind those two. In that sense, a deep love for the myth and sources makes sense for those seeking new expressions of it.

But that it something I need to do a great more digging to find the truth of. And as ever so far, this is a first draft, and all thoughts and corrections are welcome.


Interview with David Gemmell


6 thoughts on “Influences of British Fantasy Authors of the 60s to 80s

    1. You got any good recs, let me know! I’ve already been over some of Farah Mendlesohn & Edward James’ stuff, and Atteberry’s too, and am slowly working my way through Hume, but always on the look out for other stuff. You read Brian Murphy’s Flame and Crimson?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve heard of Brian Murphy, but not of Hume, Flame or Crimson. However, I’ve read books by folklorists such as: “The Uses of Enchantments” by Bruno Bettelheim. You’re ahead of me!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m not sure about ahead of so much as on different paths! There’s a lot of folklore stuff I’d love to get into but some other book slips in first.

        Kathryn Hume did a book called Fantasy and Mimesis: Responses to Reality in Western Literature which has some very useful parts.

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