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How Jeff and Ann VanderMeer picked stories for their new Big Book of Classic Fantasy.

Jeff VanderMeer and Ann VanderMeer
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July 2, 2019, 3:16pm

Imagine being ushered into a vast and palatial room on a sumptuous estate to rival Versailles… and before you, across a golden table, lies a smorgasbord of delights. A banquet fit for a king, a queen, or even an emperor. As you gaze upon this wonder, you’re told you may eat only one meal from this magical repass. After which, you will be ushered from the castle-keep, from the enchanted gardens that surround it, with the little glints at dusk that might be fireflies or might be faeries. You will leave, never to return, left only with the memory of the most amazing meal you have ever eaten.

Thus, somewhat, our dilemma as anthologists compiling this Big Book of Classic Fantasy, culled from over a century of fantastical stories, starting in the early 1800s and ending with World War II. How to glut oneself without getting sick? (Even with a larder as large as this book, there are limits.) How to sample as much as one can without feeling slightly dissatisfied at not getting a bigger bite of particular favorites? What to bring back, then, for readers, that isn’t just the editors glutting themselves on their own particular tastes? Not everyone wants a steady diet of Turkish Delight, even if it is accompanied by talking animals and a magical closet.

In short, the period in question was rich, deep, and wild for literature, and there is an inclination in even the most disciplined curator to succumb to that wildness and favor the word “treasury” over “anthology,” to relinquish focus for a family-style buffet free-for-all.

Yet, the best meals, the best experiences in restaurants, are curated to some extent. They have a beginning, middle, and end. You remember them because of the selection of ingredients and the care with which they are put together.  Thus, our decision has been to sample in such a way as to showcase certain themes and schools of thought while not forgetting that wonderful nostalgia for the fantasy treasuries of our collective childhood.

This process included making sure fairytales and swords-and-sorcery were represented, as well as humorous fantasy (something the genre is very good at) while also showcasing non-Anglo fantasy from around the world. In fact, The Big Book of Classic Fantasy has more new translations (of work never before in English) and translations over all than any of our previous anthologies. The result, we hope, is to show the full flowering of pre-World War II fantasy fiction.

Here is the Big Book‘s table of contents:

“The Queen’s Son” by Bettina von Arnim

“Hans-My-Hedgehog,” by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

“The Story of the Hard Nut,” by E. T. A. Hoffmann

“Rip Van Winkle,” by Washington Irving

“The Luck of the Bean-Rows,” by Charles Nodier

“Transformation,” by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

“The Nest of Nightingales,” by Théophile Gautier

“The Fairytale About a Dead Body, Belonging to No One Knows Whom,” by Vladimir Odoevsky

“The Story of the Goblins who Stole a Sexton,” by Charles Dickens

“The Nose,” by Nikolai Gogol

“The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” by Edgar Allan Poe

“The Story of Jeon Unchi,” by Anonymous

“Feathertop: A Moralized Legend,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Master Zacharius,” by  Jules Verne

“The Frost King: Or, the Power of Love,” by Louisa May Alcott

“The Tartarus of Maids,” by Herman Melville

“The Magic Mirror,” by George MacDonald

“The Diamond Lens,” by  Fitz-James O’Brien

“Goblin Market,” Christina Rossetti

“The Will-o’-the-Wisps Are in Town,” by Hans Christian Andersen

The Legend of the Pale Maiden,” by Aleksis Kivi

“Looking-Glass House,” by Lewis Carroll

“Furnica, or the Queen of the Ants,” by Carmen Sylva

“The Story of Iván the Fool,” by Leo Tolstoy

“The Goophered Grapevine,” by Charles W. Chestnutt

“The Bee-Man of Orn,” by Frank R. Stockton

“The Remarkable Rocket,” by Oscar Wilde

“The Ensouled Violin,” by H. P. Blavatskaya

“The Death of Odjigh,” by Marcel Schwob

“The Terrestrial Fire,” by Marcel Schwob

“The Kingdom of Cards,” by Rabindranath Tagore

“The Other Side: A Breton Legend,” by Count Eric Stanlislaus Stenbock

“The Fulness of Life,” by Edith Wharton

“Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady,” by Vernon Lee

“The Little Room,” by Madeline Yale Wynne

“The Plattner Story,” by H. G. Wells

“The Princess Baladina—Her Adventure,” by  Willa Cather

“The Reluctant Dragon,” by Kenneth Grahame

“Iktomi Tales,” by Zitkala-Ša

“Marionettes,” by Louis Fréchette

“Dance of the Comets: An Astral Pantomime in Two Acts,” by Paul Scheerbart

“The White People,” by Arthur Machen

“Blamol,” by Gustav Meyrink

“Goblins: A Logging Camp Story,” by Louis Fréchette

“Sowbread,” by Grazia Deledda

“The Angry Street,” by  G. K. Chesterton

“The Aunt and Amabel,” by E. Nesbit

“Sacrifice,” by Aleksey Remizov

“The Princess Steel,” by W. E. B. Du Bois

“The Hump,” by Fernán Caballero

“The Celestial Omnibus,” by E. M. Forster

“The Legend of the Ice Babies,” by E. Pauline Johnson

“The Last Redoubt,” by William Hope Hodgson

“Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse,” by L. Frank Baum

“The Plant Men,” by Edgar Rice Burroughs

“Strange News from Another Star,” by Hermann Hesse

“The Metamorphosis,” by Franz Kafka

“The Hoard of the Gibbelins,” by Lord Dunsany

“Through the Dragon Glass,” by A. Merritt

“David Blaze and the Blue Door,” by E. F. Benson

“The Big Bestiary of Modern Literature,” by Franz Blei

“The Alligator War,” by Horacio Quiroga

“Friend Island,” by Francis Stevens

“Magic Comes to a Committee,” by Stella Benson

“Gramaphone of the Ages,” by Yefim Zozulya

“Joiwind,” by David Lindsay

“Sound in the Mountain,” by Maurice Renard

“Sennin,” by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

“Koshtra Pivrarcha,” by E. R. Eddison

“At the Border,” by Der Nister

“The Marvelous Exploits of Paul Bunyon,” by W. B. Laughead

“Talkative Domovoi,” by Aleksandr Grin

“The Ratcatcher,” by Aleksandr Grin

“The Shadow Kingdom,” by Robert E. Howard

“The Man Traveling with the Brocade,” by Edogawa Ranpo

“A Visit to the Museum,” by Vladimir Nabokov

“The Water Sprite’s Tale,” by Karel Čapek

“The Capital of Cat Country,” by Lao She

“Coyote Stories,” by Mourning Dove

“Uncle Monday,” by Zora Neale Hurston

“Rose-Cold, Moon Skater,” by María Teresa León

“A Night of the High Season,” by Bruno Schulz

“The Influence of the Sun,” by Fernand Dumont

“The Town of Cats,” by Hagiwara Sakutarō

“The Debutante,” by Leonora Carrington

“The Jewels in the Forest,” by Fritz Leiber

“Evening Primrose,” by John Collier

“The Coming of the White Worm,” by Clark Ashton Smith

“The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls,” by Marcel Aymé

“Leaf by Niggle,” by J. R. R. Tolkien

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The Big Book of Classic Fantasy is out today from Vintage Books.

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