As a result of the marvellous discussion that arose from my post on “What is a trilogy?”, someone has sent a question: how did the fantasy trilogy come to be? What is its history? (Thanks Shawn).
So I want to pose that question to all you knowledgeable folk out there.
My answer to Shawn included the following points:
It may have stemmed from the success of Lord of the Rings. [Does anyone know of any earlier fantasy trilogies?] And the structure came out of two things:
- the physical length of the book meant it was better broken up, especially once paperbacks came to be all the rage
- Tolkien was fascinated by the world he created more than the story, and to build a world like that you need an awful lot of words.
This second point is why fantasies still need lots of words, especially ones that are set in worlds not earth-like. Then, with Tolkien, readers found the fascination of immersing themselves in a strange and wonderful place for 3 whole volumes and wanted more of the same…and the trilogy was on its way.
Of course stories in a series, set in the same place and with the same characters, are no new thing. The Iliad and the Odyssey, tales of the gods in the ancient world, etc. In the nineteenth century in English literature you get serials (many of Dickens’s novels were serialised) and also series of mainstream novels e.g. Trollope’s Palliser books and the Barsetshirebooks – both series of 6 or 7 books, and very popular in their day.
But I wonder what the first real fantasy trilogy was? And which was the next after Tolkien?