Title:  "From Homer to Harry Potter: A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy"
Authors:  Matthew Dickerson & David O'Hara
Publisher:  Brazos Press

The early part of this decade saw a growing interest in fantasy literature, due in no small part to two very successful movie franchises. Of course, I'm talking about "The Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter."

At the time, I was a member of the board of directors (and later president) of the Mythopoeic Society. We saw a lot of people new to fantasy come to appreciate fantasy literature. Since then, the buzz for fantasy has dwindled a bit, but there is still a strong interest in the fantastic, with more movies, such as "The Chronicles of Narnia" and Phillip Pullman's God-hating "His Dark Materials" both coming soon to a theater near you.

Why this interest in fantasy? There is a bit of testosterone involved in it, I must admit. My inner dude just loves those cool fight scenes from "The Lord of the Rings," and my sons, when they re-watch the extended versions, fast forward past all that mushy stuff (what there is of it) to the battles. Who cares if the elves didn't come to Helm's Deep in the novel? It makes for some great cinematography. And what about the covers of fantasy novels? True, they're not as lurid as they were during the hey-days of Valejo and the Brothers Hildebrandt, but there are still plenty of covers which show that in pseudo-medieval cultures women in general can't afford much clothing and have impossible body mass indexes.

But hormones only get you so far. There's got to be something more, especially when you consider that there are lots of women reading fantasy these days. (Harlequin has even launched its own fantasy imprint, Luna Books, trying to cash in on this growing niche.) There is indeed something more going on in fantasy that makes many enjoy it as a genre.

Christian fantasy authors J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis both wrote on the topic of fantasy literature (as well as creating two of the most beloved fantasy worlds), but what they wrote is limited to a few sentences here, an essay there, a personal letter, etc. What has been much needed is a more consistent analysis of fantasy and its relationship to the Christian faith. It's something I've considered doing over the years, but Christian publisher Brazos Press has beat me to it with "From Homer to Harry Potter: A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy" by Matthew Dickerson and David O'Hara. (Dickerson is also the author of "Following Gandalf," which was one of the few quality LOTR-related books that came out during the release of the films.)

For Dickerson and O'Hara, however, the question is not "what is fantasy?", but "what is myth?" Even though English professor and Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey has declared that "the dominant literary mode of the twentieth century has been the fantastic," Dickerson and O'Hara rightly point out that "fantasy" as a genre really only extends back one or two hundred years, if that. However, mythic stories go back all the way to man's first inclination to tell tales.

The mythic, then, is where we should look, and Dickerson and O'Hara do a wonderful job walking us through a history and definition of what the mythic actually is. At the highest level, a dictionary definition of "myth" gets us pointed in the right direction: "A story of great but unknown age which embodies a belief regarding some fact or phenomenon of experience, and in which often the forces of nature and of the soul are personified."