Announcing the Wat Dryhope Award

The cover of A History Maker (1994),
by Alasdair Gray

Alasdair Gray’s novella A History Maker (1994) is set in a Scotland of the future which understands human history, past and future, in terms of the domestic household. The global economy has been transformed by the invention of a universally available green energy source, the powerplant stalk: a column of light that extends from the ground to the clouds, requiring no input or maintenance except what is provided by the local ecosphere, and capable of converting all available material into whatever a household needs, from books and minerals to china dolls. As a result, societies have rearranged themselves into small domestic units organised around individual powerplant stalks, each unit directed by a group of matriarchal ‘aunts’ whose ‘gossip’ helps them resolve every crisis faced by their community.

The men of the future amuse themselves by staging wargames between local communities, fought with real weapons and involving a sometimes spectacular body count. The book’s protagonist, Wat Dryhope, acquires cult status among the spectators of these wargames thanks to his part in winning a victory for his clan against all odds. As a result, he finds himself drawn into a worldwide plot to overthrow the matriarchy by destroying the powerplants that supply its households. Wat represents, in fact, the intrusion of history into a world that sees itself as having left history behind; history, here, being largely the product of dissatisfied men seeking to gain power by violence over as many households as they can, often because of some personal resentment caused by their upbringing. Only the matriarchs and their gossip can prevent this utopia of the future from lapsing back into its historical state of continuous warfare.

The intrusion of history into a settled world is also, for Gray, the realisation of story. Hailed as a hero, Wat stands in danger of coming to embody the desire of certain men and women to transfer their fantasies wholesale from the space of storytelling into the public and private spheres, with consequences as disastrous as you might expect if you like to read action adventures or indulge in extravagant fantasies. Mark Twain, among others, shared this awareness of the disastrous effects of confusing the real and the fantastic, ascribing the American Civil War to the passion of Southern Gentlemen for reading the romances of Sir Walter Scott, and for imposing the terms of those romances unchanged on their unfortunate nation. Gray’s world of the future, set in the Scottish landscape quite close to Scott’s home in Abbotsford, involves instead a constant interplay between fantasy and reality, and so invites us to consider how best to achieve a healthy relationship between the two. Gray politicizes fantasy, in other words, and encourages his thinking readers to do the same.

Alasdair Gray
Image Courtesy The Alasdair Gray Archive

Wat Dryhope is not simply an embodiment of toxic masculinity or imperialist self-delusion. He also represents a resistance to complacency: dreams and fantasies as stimulants to reflection, invention, needful transformation. His disruption of the matriarchy leads it to needful self-reformation, giving new creative functions to the men who had formerly been wasting their lives in pointless combat. And he ends his life as a wandering Gangrel: one of those travellers whose philosophy of constant movement and debate challenges the self-satisfaction of the settlements they refuse to settle in. His first name recalls both ‘Walter’, invoking the internationally acclaimed and notoriously conservative writer of romances, and Wat Tyler, the leader of the fourteenth-century peasant’s revolt whose life was an inspiration to the socialist writer-artist William Morris. His second name summons up both the old word wanhope – despair, depression, despondency – and the conviction that the green shoots of hope can spring from the driest of grounds (‘For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease’; ‘Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live’). Like most of us, and like the fantasy genre, he is a thing of contrasts.

The Wat Dryhope Award is intended to reward thought on fantasy. To this end it is presented annually to the best-performing student in the MLitt English Literature: Fantasy at the University of Glasgow. The Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic thanks the Estate of Alasdair Gray for giving us permission to name the award after one of his quirkiest and most unsettling protagonists.

CFP: Tolkien and Fantasy sessions at ICMS Kalamazoo 2023

The Call for Papers for the 58th International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA (May 11–May 13, 2023) is now open. Proposals of papers and contributions to roundtables are due Sept. 15, 2022. The Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, University of Glasgow, is sponsoring two sessions: 

Tolkien and Medieval Constructions of Race (A Roundtable)

Organised by: Mariana Rios Maldonado
Modality: Virtual

British Library, Royal 19 D I f. 65: Saracens and Christians

The construction of race in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth narratives, legendarium, and their adaptations represents even now a gap within Tolkien scholarship. The adverse reactions to the 2021 Tolkien Society’s “Tolkien and Diversity” Seminar and the diverse casting of the upcoming Lord of the Rings series highlight the pressing importance of addressing this subject from all areas of Tolkien scholarship, including medieval studies. This roundtable will bring these discussions to the forefront, with special consideration towards the ground-breaking, critical inputs by medievalists of colour and the field’s intersection with postcolonial theory. Contributions from all scholarly approaches are welcome.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Marvelous Medievalism

Organised by: Kristine A. Swank
Modality: In person (in Kalamazoo, MI)

Ursula K. Le Guin
Photo by Eileen Gunn

Ursula K. Le Guin (1929–2018) left an unparalleled legacy of masterworks in science fiction and fantasy. Several of her imagined worlds were founded upon or enriched by global medieval influences from Europe, Asia, North & South America. This paper session will explore and examine some of Le Guin’s marvelous medievalisms, her sources and influences, and their effects on her fiction. Papers might employ any scholarly approach. Possible texts include Always Coming Home, Annals of the Western Shore (Gifts, Voices, Powers), The Beginning Place, Earthsea series, Eye of the Heron, Hainish cycle, Lavinia, Orsinian Tales, and Le Guin’s short stories.

All proposals must be made through the Congress’s Confex system. Please carefully follow the instructions on the Congress’s Call for Papers.

CFP: Tolkien sessions at IMC Leeds 2023

Paper abstracts are currently being sought for the following Tolkien sessions for the International Medieval Congress at Leeds, 3-6 July 2023.  The special thematic strand of this conference will be Networks and Entanglements.  See more here

We are very pleased that the 2023 IMC Tolkien Sessions will again be sponsored by the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow.

Paper submissions are being sought for the following sessions:

Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches

This session can accommodate wider topics and new approaches to Tolkien’s medievalism, ranging from source studies and theoretical readings, to comparative studies of Tolkien’s works. 

Tolkien’s Medieval Entanglements 

Throughout his life and academic work Tolkien explored and grappled with some of the most perplexing and interesting cruxes and entanglements of medieval literature and language.  This session will explore examples of Tolkien’s engagement with these ‘medieval entanglements’ and how he sought potential solutions for them through both his own academic research and fictional worldbuilding. 

Tolkien’s Work and Academic Networks at Leeds

J.R.R. Tolkien established his academic career at the University of Leeds, joining as a Reader in 1920, aged 28, before being promoted to Professor within a few years. By the time he left in 1925 he had established the School as a UK leader in Old Icelandic language and literature.  Papers in this session can explore elements of Tolkien’s academic as well as fictional work while he was at the University of Leeds.  Papers can also explore the work of colleagues that formed part of Tolkien’s academic network(s) while he was at Leeds.   

New Work and Methods in Tolkien Research – Making the Links

Papers in this session can explore new methods of academic research that can be applied to both Tolkien and Middle-earth studies and what these methodologies are revealing for the continuing academic dialogue around Tolkien and both his academic and fictional works.  

Disentangling the Second Age of Middle-earth

In Tolkien’s great masterwork The Lord of the Rings, the Second Age of Middle-earth is a time remembered in poetry and song and the memories of such witnesses to its history as Elrond and Galadriel. In this session we are seeking papers that deal specifically with elements of the history, peoples and events of the Second Age of Middle-earth which saw the rise of the great evil that would cast its shadow over Middle-earth in the Third Age.  Papers in this session can be in dialogue with the upcoming Amazon Prime The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power series as well as the new book The Fall of Númenor And Other Tales from the Second Age of Middle-earth which will be published by HarperCollins in November 2022.

The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power and Questions of Adaptation and Authenticity – A Round Table 

Our continuing Tolkien at Leeds Round Table series will explore one of the most significant new adaptations of Tolkien’s works, Amazon Prime’s The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power series.  Participants will offer short presentations on some element of this series and how it is (or is not) in dialogue with Tolkien’s texts and what this new adaptation develops or reveals in the expanding body of adaptations of Tolkien’s world-building.   

  • Please submit a paper contribution title and abstract by 31 August 2022 to  Dr. Andrew Higgins (
  • Length of abstracts: 150 words (max!) 
  • Papers will be 15-20 minutes long
  • With your abstract, please include name and details of contributor (affiliation, address, and preferred e-mail address)

CFP: When it Changed: Women in SF/F Since 1972 (3-4 Dec 2022)

Keynote Speakers: Cheryl Morgan and Joy Sanchez-Taylor

To mark the 50th anniversary of Joanna Russ’s landmark short story, ‘When It Changed’, the Science Fiction Foundation, and the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic and Games and Gaming Lab the University of Glasgow are proposing an online conference on women’s role in reshaping science fiction.

Fifty years after Russ’s game-changing story, the major sf/f prizes are being won by women, among them N.K. Jemisin, Mary Robinette Kowal, Laura Jean McKay and Martha Wells. To these we can add the posthumous success of Octavia E. Butler and the mainstream acclaim of writers such as Susanna Clarke. Despite such controversies as ‘Puppygate’, sf/f now appears to be a more inclusive place, partly because of the role played by women.

If sf/f has indeed changed, in what ways did women help to cause this happen? On the other hand, does the glamour of sales and literary prizes for a few select authors disguise structural inequities within sf/f that endure from the 1970s? We invite papers of 20 minutes in length that will debate these questions. Possible topics may include (but are not limited to):

  • Imagining post-patriarchal futures
  • Lesbian, non-binary and trans representations
  • Women and Indigenous futurisms
  • Women and technoculture
  • Disability studies and the medical humanities
  • Women, ecology and the ‘Manthropocene’
  • Space opera and planetary romance
  • Sf/f and Young Adult fiction
  • Women and the graphic novel
  • Video, table-top and role-playing games
  • Fanzines and fan cultures
  • Modes of production and consumption – women as editors, reviewers, publishers
  • Feminist presses and imprints
  • The New Wave and literary experimentalism
  • The role of the female auteur in sf music and cinema
  • Women and sf/f criticism and theory
  • Exploding the sf/f canon – re-visioning sf/f histories
  • Sf/f and social/digital media
  • Transmedia and adaptation studies
  • Canonisation and the role of literary awards

Proposals of up to 250 words with a bionote of 50 words should be submitted to Dr Paul March-Russell ( by 9 August 2022. We are also interested in ideas for panels on special topics related to the conference theme. A selection of papers will be published in the winter 2023 issue of Foundation.

Fantasy and Puppetry: Animating the Fantastic – Videos and Reading List

Our Fantasy and Puppetry event celebrated the art of puppets and puppeteers in bringing fantasy and the fantastic to life, on stage, on screen and on the page. If you missed it, you can watch all sessions below. You will also find here a reading list of texts mentioned during these sessions!

Fantasy and Puppetry (Film): Brian and Wendy Froud, interviewed by Terri Windling:

Bringing Fantasy Creatures to Life : William Todd-Jones, interviewed by Terri Windling:

Bringing Fantasy Creatures to Life (Theatre): Howard Gayton:

Panel on Puppets and Puppetry in Fantasy Narratives:

Reading/Viewing Recommendations

The two lists below were collated from the Zoom comments during all of the Fantasy and Puppetry sessions. Recommendations are listed in alphabetical order and are copied directly from the comments of attendees.

Puppeteers, Practitioners, and Theatre Companies  

More Text and Media Recommendations  

Changing the Voices of Science Fiction: The Progressive Fantastic in Germany

Join us on 26 May 2022 at 5pm BST (on campus and online!) for a public lecture by Dr Lars Schmeink, Leverhulme Professor of German Studies, University of Leeds, on “Changing the Voices of Science Fiction: The Progressive Fantastic in Germany”. The lecture will take place in Room 253 (Seminar Room 1 – Yudowitz), at Wolfson Medical School but will also be broadcast via Zoom webinar. Book your free tickets here.

German science fiction has traditionally been a conservative genre, its main authors to this day mostly white, cis, hetero males of middle age. Until recently, diversity of genders, non-heteronormative sexuality, race or varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds, or representations of other marginalized groups (age, (dis)ability, etc.) has been sorely missing. But there has been a concerted effort by a younger, more diverse group of writers to change the approach to fantastic literature as a whole. Under the umbrella of the “progressive fantastic”, they have called for the inclusion of other identities in speculative fiction, the strengthening of own-voices, and a keen-eyed reexamination of traditions and structures in fantastic texts. In this talk, Dr Schmeink will present the key features of this “progressive fantastic” by looking at exemplary texts of recent German SF production: Judith and Christian Vogts groundbreaking work in writing in a non-heteronormative language and presenting intersectionally diverse communities in Wasteland (2019) and Ace in Space (2020); James Sullivan’s investigation of belonging and self-positioning via Afrofuturist estrangement in Die Stadt der Symbionten (2019), Lena Richter’s subtle emphasis on (dis)abled and neurodivergent characters in her short stories “Feuer” (2020) and “3,78 Lifepoints” (2021), and Theresa Hannig’s reinvigoration of the hopeful narrative strategies of utopia as a genre in Pantopia (2022). 

Dr Lars Schmeink

Dr Lars Schmeink is currently Leverhulme Professor of German Studies at the University of Leeds, visiting from his position as Research Fellow at the Europa-Universität Flensburg, where he just applied for funding for a larger research project on science fiction as a form of science communication. Before coming to Leeds, he concluded his work as principal investigator of the federally funded „Science Fiction“ subproject for the „FutureWork“ network, an interdisciplinary research group working on the development of work and society. In 2010, he inaugurated the first German academic organization dealing with research into the fantastic, the Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung, and served as its president for ten years. He is the author of Biopunk Dystopias (2016), and the co-editor of Cyberpunk and Visual Culture (2018), The Routledge Companion to Cyberpunk Culture (2020), Fifty Key Figures in Cyberpunk Culture (2022) and New Perspectives on Contemporary German Science Fiction (2022). 

Schedule – Medical Humanities and the Fantastic online symposium

Medical Humanities and the Fantastic: Neurodiversity and Disability

Online Symposium

11 February 2022



9:45 – 10:00 Welcome

10:00 – 10:15 Keynote Lecture Q&A: Ria Cheyne

10:15 – 10:30 Break

10:30-11:30 Panel 1: “Fantastic as Methodology”

David Hartley: “Autism and Estrangement”

Emma Dee: “Hauntology and Lost Futures – Trauma Narratives in the Contemporary Gothic”

Josefine Wälivaara: “Out of time: Subversion of Normative Time and Disability in Science Fiction”

11:30-11:45 Break

Panel 2:

11:45-12:45 Panel 2A: “Senses and Sensing the World Differently”

Chair: Anna McFarlane

Sarah Neef: The “City of Unseen Steps”: Blindness and Palimpsestual Sensory Impressions in Jonathan Dark or the Evidence of Ghosts

Bridget Bartlett: “Rethinking “Mind-Blindness” with Sidney’s New Arcadia

Leigha McReynolds: “Productive Bodyminds in Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17

11:45-12:45 Panel 2B: “Lived Experiences”

Chair: Beata Gubacsi

Jennifer Slagus: “Roll for Initiative: How Gaming Graphic Novels Are Changing Neurodiversity Representation in Children’s Literature”

Yoon, wn-ho: “Web novel in the Republic of Korea – in the viewpoint of Autistic-Neurodiversity”

Brian Keeley: “Colonising Heart Transplantation: fantastical film (mis)representations of the lived experience”

12:45-13:45 Lunch break

Panel 3:

13:45-14:45 Panel 3A: “Disability and Neurodiversity on Screen”

Chair: Anna McFarlane

Margaret Tedford: “Eccentric angels and irregular demons: Reading neurodiverse experience in Good Omens

Jess Gibson: “Blurring the Boundaries of Human/Machine, Dis/Ability and Good/Evil in the depiction of John Silver in Disney’s Treasure Planet

Rebecca Jones: “Augmented Animated Bodies: Disability in American and Japanese Animated Film and Television”

13:45-14:45 Panel 3B: “Disability, Myths and Mythmaking”

Chair: Beata Gubacsi

Clare Moore: “Tolkien’s Disabled Landscapes”

Ellena Deeley “Conjoined Twins and Identity Multiplicity in Diasporic Marvellous Realist Fiction: Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine

Radhika Sharma: “From Marvelous Freaks to Pathological Deviants: A Study of Extraordinary Bodies in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981)

14:45-15:00 Break

15:00– 15:45 Keynote lecture: Louise Creechan

15:45-16:00 Break

16:00-17:00 Creative Panel

Discussion with Bogi Takács and Jo Ross-Barrett

Neglected Fantasy Gems

In this blog post, we share recommendations for fantasy works that have been neglected, overlooked, or forgotten. We hope to inspire you to pick up one of these books or stories! The recommendations here were shared in one of the bi-weekly meetings for our fantasy PhD students.

Annals of the Westen Shore by Ursula K Le Guin 

Recommendation by Christopher Lynch Becherer

Dear reader, I know exactly what you’re thinking! Ursula K Le Guin in a blog post on overlooked fantasy works?  

Yet her final fantasy trilogy, Annals of the Western Shore (2004-2007) is curiously ignored. These three novels, Gifts (2004), Voices (2006), and Powers (2007) are set in a fantasy world where both the fantastic and the protagonists are marginalised, side-lined within their own worlds. Despite each novel in the series being award winning, and despite Le Guin’s place at the heart of the fantasy canon, there is almost a complete paucity of scholarship on the series. I suspect this has something to do with their Young Adult categorisation, but maybe also to do with the time in which she wrote and published these novels. After her Earthsea novels (1968-2001) revolutionised fantasy, and the Hainish Cycle (1966-2002) asked bold new questions of science fiction, her work turned inward. After interrogating the patriarchal assumptions of the genre, she turned the critical lens on herself, to stunning effect. Always Coming Home (1985) and the later Earthsea works (2001) re-envisioned her own understanding of fantasy storytelling. 

Her mid-2000s writing is rather unexamined in contrast. For me, though, the Annals trilogy suggests a calm settling of her work. All the richness and balance of her writing is still here, but in this Third Age of Le Guin, there is a settled quality to the texts: a certainty and trust in the simplicity of her sentences, and the assuredness of her characterisations. They may not have revolutionised the genre, but these three final fantasy works are ultimately amongst the most moving and readable of Le Guin’s oeuvre. A beautiful conclusion to a wonderful career, but not a complacent ending: typically of Le Guin, these are still urgent and fiery texts at their heart. 

Of the three novels, I’ll highlight the concluding one, Powers, which focuses on Gavir, a young man escaping slavery in the city state of Etra. Along with her final novel, Lavinia, this text finds Le Guin delving further back for the inspiration for her setting. In this case, early Roman history provides the rich soil for a novel about how history is written and revolutions are born. This final novel, I would suggest, is the novel for today: a book about re-examining the past whilst urgently facing the future, about migration, postcolonial identity, and a personal exodus in a time of crisis. Pick these books up: you won’t be disappointed! 

Tatterdemalion, by Sylvia V Linsteadt & Rima Staines

Recommendation by Lynn R S Genevieve

Tatterdemalion is a piece of speculative fiction but written in a folk-tale manner. The author Sylvia Linsteadt was inspired by the artwork of Rima Staines, who describes her paintings as ‘Waymarkers to the Otherworlds because I am fascinated by the shamanic process inherent in creating art’. What is specifically different about the writer’s process here is that the illustrations came first; Linsteadt used the pictures Staines had already produced to craft a story – and did so extremely successfully. The title Tatterdemalion is evocative of both the process of piecing together the book from scraps and one of the main characters, the ragamuffin Poppy.

            There is a helpful ‘Time Line’ rather than a standard index setting out the order of events, but conversely, the story is told in a reverse fashion. A series of ‘Constellations’ are interspersed with other named story chapters. This adds to the patchwork effect of the storytelling, marrying up the disparate paintings with what could be a disjointed narrative if it weren’t for the sign posting. It is an unashamedly feminine perspective, the work of two women, involving intuition, dreams and magic.

            I particularly appreciated the style of prose. The mix of an old-world lyricism within a – at first glance – dystopian future is unsettling whilst inviting a familiar warmth of round the fire fairy-tales. There is a deliberate wildness capturing the old Northern European tropes that inhabit much of Staines’ work and placed in (the more familiar to Linsteadt) California. The narrative deliberately sets out to create a future world that has been ‘uncivilised’, recognising the value of the indigenous and the marginal.

            I cannot end before introducing a central character, the strange, wheeled creature that came from a painting, called Lyoobov:

‘He came on perfect wheels of skin and wood and bone; he was a leathery-skinned, ancient, trunked beast, rolling the way no orderly thing, no neat instrument of civilization, should roll.’

            The impossibility of this being adds to the originality and wonder of this book and I appreciated the thread of imagination reflecting reality, a mirroring of themes held in stories, so important to humanity. The symbolism of this is held in a book within a book within a book; Lyoobov holds one, Poppy tells the tale from one, and you hold one in your own hands when you pick up Tatterdemalion.

I would recommend further exploration of Rima Staines’ work which is far ranging; married to the notable poet, Tom Hirons (Sometimes a Wild God), they have collaborated with Terrie Windling, Jay Griffiths, and Martin Shaw, amongst others.

Varjak Paw and The Outlaw Varjak Paw, by S.F. Said

Recommendation by Emma French

For my neglected gem, I chose Varjak Paw by S.F. Said. This was partly because I think it’s a uniquely strange, wonderfully gothic children’s book, with a beautiful and haunting illustration style. I feel it has long gone underappreciated, ever since I first read it, aged 11. But now, reflecting back on it as a fantasy scholar, I also think the book is an excellent example of Todorov’s concept of fantastic hesitation.

This duology of books follows a purebred pedigree cat, Varjak Paw, who must leave the safety of his home when it is threatened, and travel into the city looking for a way to save his family. While exploring the urban landscape, Varjak also travels to a fantastical version of Mesopotamia in his dreams. There, he learns ‘the Way’ from his ancestor Jalal: a series of ancient martial arts techniques for cats (for Mesopotamian blue cats, specifically!) In a feline hero’s journey, Varjak embarks on a quest to learn how to defend himself, facing off against monstrously frightening cars, befriending dogs, and attempting to defeat the strange, ghostlike cat, Sally Bones, who rules the city.

The story opens up many uncertainties where fantastic interpretations can reside. We never know if Varjak is truly speaking to Jalal in his dreams. Nor do we know if the abilities of ‘the Way’ are supernatural, or simply a learned set of martial art skills, but they do seem to affect the world as if with magic. Antagonists like the Gentleman and Sally Bones also dwell in the liminal space between the mundane and the supernatural, seemingly possessing preternatural abilities. As a child, I really enjoyed how so few of these ambiguities were explained away, and now I understand that this contributes to the strange, unsettling and fantastic quality of the story.

“The Woman in Red” and “Unmasked”, by Muriel Campbell Dyar

Recommendation by Georgina Gale

Many think of Victorian fiction as stale, outdated, and often riddled with harmful ideology. However, this is certainly not true of all nineteenth-century literature, and there are some brilliant works which are sadly overlooked despite their quality, originality, and surprisingly pertinence in the twenty-first century. My favourite case in point: Muriel Campbell Dyar’s ‘The Woman in Red’ (1899) and its sequel ‘Unmasked’ (1900), both published in The Black Cat magazine. These two stories are not only excellent works of dark fantasy but, when read together, they also raise important issues concerning men’s attitudes towards women and accountability for their behaviour. Yet, despite Dyar’s talent and the popularity of the first story amongst contemporary readers, the two tales are little known today. Were it not for the British Library’s Tales of the Weird series – set up specifically to recover and share great yet neglected short stories – then I may never have had the pleasure of coming across her work.  

The first of Dyar’s pair, ‘The Woman in Red’, features an enchanting, masked woman who enraptures the men around her after suddenly arriving at Monte Carlo with no name and only an old woman for company. With no clues as to her identity but plentiful rumours about her wealth and beauty, it’s not long before the men begin to speculate about who she might be. However, tragedy ensues after one gentleman succeeds in peering behind the mask. A year after this story’s publication, and after high demand for a sequel that ventured deeper into the Woman in Red’s secret, ‘Unmasked’ was published and proudly advertised at the top of the issue as ‘“The Woman in Red” – Unmasked!’. ‘Unmasked’ is equally well-written and reveals an excellently chilling twist that makes the reader question their previous understanding of the events in the first story, and makes a rather poignant remark on men’s mistreatment of women, one that still resonates to this day. 

The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink 

Recommendation by Mariana Rios Maldonado

Gustav Meyrink’s The Golem (1915) is a story about the fluctuating lines between reality and superstition, reason and madness, and the frail construction of what we call the self. Using Prague’s streets and alleyways, with their history steeped in folklore and magic, Meyrink tells the stories of the forgotten souls of the Jewish ghetto, whose beliefs and suffering share the stage with legendary creatures such as Golems and Doppelgängers. At its core, the text poses the following questions: if you realized that in this world there is a force superior to you, to your strength and imagination, a force that steers your life in mysterious, even mystical ways, what would you do? Would you feel comforted in the knowledge that every aspect of your life has led you to this moment? Or would you cower in fear, paranoia, for there is a chance that this force is not simply indifferent or benign, but indeed antagonistic to human desires and purposes, and that resistance is futile? Beyond the plot of the novel, Meyrink’s narrative has endured a fantastic history of its own: from being the author’s most renowned novel and a celebrated piece of Germanophonic fantastic fiction at the beginning of the 20th century, The Golem was later banned by the National Socialists and burned due to the narrative’s apparently “harmful worldview”. But the text survived, and its words have inspired scholars and writers of the likes of Gershom Scholem and Jorge Luis Borges. Although obscure and in some corners of the world still unknown or forgotten, The Golem remains a seminal text in the history of European fantastic literature.

The Winged Histories, by Sofia Samatar

Recommendation by Matthew Sangster

Sofia Samatar’s first novel, A Stranger in Olondria (2013), deservedly won numerous plaudits, including the World Fantasy Award.  Her second, The Winged Histories, is, in my view, even better.  It’s gorgeously written, deeply human and packs incredible richness into its relatively short span.  One way of describing it would be as the story of a war, but that isn’t really accurate.  Instead, it’s the story of aspects of conflict and its consequences that usually get left out of conventional histories and military epics.  It’s told in the voices of four women – a soldier, a scholar, a singer and socialite – reaching back to their roots before the war, winding around the rebellion itself and exploring some of what happens in the aftermath.  This makes for an allusive and elliptical narrative, but never a needlessly cryptic one.  It’s a book about empathy, and the power of story, and the strength and limits of love.  It reworks many of the pleasures of more traditional fantasies (it includes convincing political manipulations, deep histories, cryptic writings and rich romance), but it does so in ways that make these pleasures new, bringing home how differently such things can hit when we hear of them from diverse and self-aware storytellers, rather than from the avatars of a Manichean conflict.  It’s intense and sad and keening and wondrous.  You should read it as soon as you can.

Hobberdy Dick, by K.M. Briggs

Recommendation by Dimitra Fimi

Katharine Briggs was best known as a folklorist, President of the Folklore Society (1969-1972) and author of many books on folk beliefs about, and literary uses of, fairies. Her work includes key studies on folklore and fairies still very much cited today, including The Anatomy of Puck (1959), The Fairies in Tradition and Literature (1967), the 4-volume Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language (1970-1971) and A Dictionary of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures (1976), among many others. Hobberdy Dick is only one of only two novels for children she ever wrote, and is – for me – a perfect example of a neglected children’s fantasy that really does demand more attention.

The titular Hobberdy Dick is a hob, or hobgoblin, or brownie, a fairy creature tied to a domestic space, usually benevolent if treated well, though playing minor pranks (especially when disrespected), isn’t beyond such a being’s sphere of activities. Dick belongs to a house which is in transition at the very opening of the novel. Our setting is a country house in 1652, just after the English Civil War and the establishment of Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan regime. As the novel begins, the old, royalist family, fallen on hard times, is leaving, and a new, Puritan family are moving in. We have, therefore, a moment of tension between the well-to-do family’s Puritan attitude towards the supernatural (seen as unholy superstitions) and the (still very much living) folklore beliefs of their servants and workers, who know (as does the reader) that fairy creatures, witches, and, yes, hobs too, exist, and should be treated cautiously. The fact that the story is told from Hobberdy Dick’s point of view establishes the supernatural as true, and reveals an entire parallel world of spirits, ghosts, and witchcraft.

What makes this novel special is its combination of historical fiction (well-researched), Briggs’ extensive knowledge of folklore traditions (used very effectively to advance the plot), and, ultimately, the point of view of a fairy being, who plots and schemes to bring about the best result possible for its beloved home, and the human beings he favours. There’s a bit of an unexpected twist at the end, and a very moving conclusion, but I’ll let you discover this for yourselves. I think this little novel is a perfect example of rich folklore scholarship explored via creative practice, something I would love to see more of.

The Infernal Riddle of Historical Fantasy

Wednesday 24 November, 6 pm GMT

With James Treadwell (author of the Advent trilogy), L. J. MacWhirter (author of Black Snow Falling), Fraser Dallachy (Lecturer in historical linguistics), and Rob Maslen (Co-director of the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at Glasgow).

Join us online as we celebrate the launch of James Treadwell’s most recent novel, The Infernal Riddle of Thomas Peach (Hodder and Stoughton, 2021), with a discussion of fantasy’s obsession with history. Each of our panelists shares this obsession. Treadwell’s novel is set in the late eighteenth century, MacWhirter’s in the time of the Tudors, while Dallachy and his colleagues have advised historical novelists by drawing on the vast resources of the Historical Thesaurus of English. Together they will consider some of the challenges faced by fantasists who choose to set their stories in the past. These may include:

  • Historical accuracy: does it matter?
  • Is language magic? (Advance warning: we think it is!)
  • What’s at stake in your choice of style as you seek to evoke lost times?
  • Clichés: should we avoid them?
  • Magic: what part has it played in history?

We’ll also be responding to questions sent in by participants. Come along and be one of them!

Book your free ticket here.

James Treadwell is the author of the acclaimed Advent trilogy, about the calamitous return of magic to a world that has forgotten it. These are Advent (2012), Anarchy (2013) and Arcadia (2015), published by Hodder and Stoughton. Before that he was an academic, whose books include Interpreting Wagner (Yale University Press 2003) and Autobiographical Writing and British Literature 1783-1834 (Oxford University Press 2005).

L. J. MacWhirter is an award-winning copywriter and author. Black Snow Falling was published by Scotland Street Press (2018), introducing a new YA mythology in multiple timelines. The 2019 CILIP Carnegie Medal and the Edinburgh International Book Festival First Book Award were among its listings and nominations. Liz is currently writing her debut novel for adults, an historical novel with magical realism, in the context of a cross-disciplinary creative practice PhD.

Fraser Dallachy is Lecturer in the Historical Thesaurus of English in the School of Critical Studies at the University of Glasgow. He is Deputy Director of the Historical Thesaurus of English, and is currently working with colleagues both in Glasgow and at the Oxford English Dictionary to update the Thesaurus to its second edition, adding new words, senses, and improved dating to the resource. He has published numerous articles, book chapters and conference proceedings, and maintains several websites, including that of the Historical Thesaurus, second edition.

Rob Maslen is co-Director of the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow. He has published Elizabethan Fictions (Oxford University Press, 1997), Shakespeare and Comedy (Bloomsbury 2005), The Shakespeare Handbook (with Michael Schmidt, 2008), and editions of Sir Philip Sidney’s Apology for Poetry (Manchester University Press, 2002), Mervyn Peake’s Collected Poems (Carcanet 2008) and Peake’s Complete Nonsense (with G. Peter Winnington, Carcanet 2011). He blogs at The City of Lost Books (

Fantasy Horror Reading Group Halloween Event

The Fantasy Horror Reading Group invites you for a night of fun, horror and mayhem with our live-streaming of Cabin in the Woods next Wednesday 27th of October at 19:00 BST.
We’ll be hosting the event on Discord, and there’ll also be a film bingo, with the winner being able to choose the topic for our first reading group session of this academic year!
The bingo card can be found below, and a copy is also posted on the Discord. For those who haven’t played before, you win when you cross off 5 boxes in a row, having identified the clues in the film. The centre square is blank for you to fill in as you please.

To join us, follow the link

We look forward to seeing you there for Halloween! In the meantime, stay spooky, and feel free to say hi on Discord and follow @WickedReadings on Twitter. We don’t bite… much.