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Pixies in the Drawing Room: Gaslamp Fantasy

Frances Griffiths and fairy, 1917I've discussed historical-set speculative fiction in the past, specifically the popularity of steampunk and the weird West.  Today I'd like to introduce you to steampunk's fey cousin, gaslamp fantasy.  If you like fantasy and you enjoy period novels, gaslamp fantasy will be right up your cobblestoned alley.  Think of it as urban fantasy with a 19th-century twist.

The term "gaslamp fantasy" covers fantasy fiction set in the Regency, Victorian, and Edwardian eras, though some will stretch the definition as far as the early years of the 20th century, up the first World War.  While steampunk found its origins in the likes of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and the innovative marvels of the Industrial Age, gaslamp fantasy's wonders generally stem from more uncanny sources.

Gaslamp borrows the tone, manners, and sensibilites of such 19th century mainstays as Austen, Dickens, Wilde, or Conan Doyle, and infuses them with a touch of magic and the supernatural.  (Not to say that gaslamp and steampunk are mutually exclusive-- look at Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, where aetheric sciences and mad inventors exist cheek-by-fang with werewolves, vampires, ghosts, and mummies.)  The result is a delightful tension between the controlled and ordered structure of period Society and the wild unpredictability of magic and the supernatural.

Gaslamp doesn't even have to look very far for inspiration; yhe Victorians were already fond of fantasy as an escape from the grim pressures of industrial life.  19th century fantasists like Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald, J. M. Barrie, Bram Stoker, and Christina Rossetti regularly placed the entrances to other realms right in their neighbor's nurseries, backyards, bedrooms, and marketplaces (and on their nightstands, of course).  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle firmly believed that two young girls in Cottingley, Yorkshire were really photographing fairies at the bottom of their garden (the girls would not fully admit the hoax until the 1980s).  And don't forget, the 19th century gave us most of our fairy tales, too, thanks to the work of folklore collectors like Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, the Brothers Grimm, and Andrew Lang (of the many-colored Fairy Books). 

If the idea of Victorian wizards, Cockney fae, a magical Mayfair, or a fantasy of manners intrigues you, feel free to check out a few of the gaslamp fantasies from the list below.  (I also included a few gaslamp titles back when I covered steampunk, so be sure to revisit that list, too!)

The Inspiration:

Peter Pan and Wendy by J. M. Barrie (J Barrie)
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (J Carroll)
The Pink Fairy Book by Andrew Lang (J 398.2 Lan)
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (J 398.2 Mac)
The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit (J Nesbit)
Tales of Mystery & Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe (Horror SS Poe)
Dracula by Bram Stoker (Horror Stoker)
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (Horror Wilde)

The Modern Takes:

All Hallows' Eve: Tales of Love and the Supernatural by Mary E. Allen, ed. (Fiction SS All)
Phoenix Rising by Philippa Ballantine (PbkFantasy Ballantine)
The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett (Fantasy Beckett)
The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor (YA Beddor)
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (YA Bray)
With Fate Conspire by Marie Brennan (Fantasy Brennan)
Possession by A. S. Byatt (Fiction Byatt)
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare (YA Clare)
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (Fantasy Clarke)
Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling by D. M. Cornish (YA Cornish)
Incarnation by Emma Cornwall (Horror Cornwall)
Little, Big by John Crowley (Fantasy Crowley)
The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist (Fantasy Dahlquist)
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, eds. (Fantasy Queen)
Wicked as They Come by Delilah S. Dawson (PbkFantasy Dawson)
Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle (YA Doyle)
The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle (YA Dunkle)
Agatha H and the Airship City Phil and Kaja Foglio (YA Foglio)
The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque by Jeffrey Ford (Fiction Ford)
Faeries by Brian Froud (398.21 Fro)
Stardust by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess (Fantasy Stardust)
The Greyfriar by Clay Griffith (Fantasy Griffith)
The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart by Leanna Renee Hieber (Express YA Hieber)
The Native Star by M. K. Hobson (Fantasy Hobson)
Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal (Express Fantasy Kowal)
Lost by Gregory Maguire (Fantasy Maguire)
Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter by A. E. Moorat (Horror Moorat)
His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik (PbkFantasy Novik)
The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates (Express Fiction Oates)
The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow (Fantasy Saintcrow)
A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwartz (Express Fantasy Schwarz)
Drood by Dan Simmons (Fiction Simmons)
Skylark by Meagan Spooner (YA Spooner)
The Werewolves of London by Brian Stableford (Fiction Stableford)
Scholarly Magics by Caroline Stevermer (Fantasy Stevermer)
The Seduction of Phaeton Black by Jillian Stone (Fantasy Stone)
The Iron Dragon's Daughter by Michael Swanwick (SF Swanwick)
The Unnaturalists by Tiffany Trent (YA Trent)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (J Valente)
The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (SF Thackery)
Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton (PbkFantasy Walton)
City of Dreams & Nightmare by Ian Whates (PbkFantasy Whates)
The Arcanum by Tom Wheeler (Horror Wheeler)
Mairelon the Magician by Patricia C. Wrede (Fantasy Wrede)
Sorcery & Cecelia, or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (YA Wrede)

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