The genre of fiction that we know as ‘fantasy’ was born on 8 March 1939, on a cold, sleeting spring evening at the University of St Andrews on the east coast of Fife, Scotland. A room full of bespectacled students with bored expressions sat in rows, wrapped in their academic robes, as a thin, ascetic-looking middle-aged lecturer from Oxford mounted the podium.
Up until then, the Andrew Lang lectures at St Andrews University had borne such edifying titles as ‘Andrew Lang’s Word for Homer’, ‘Andrew Lang as Historian’, and ‘Lang, Lockhart and Biography’. So a stir of surprise and amusement ran over the crowd when the guest lecturer announced, ‘I propose to speak about fairy tales, though I am aware that this is a rash adventure.’
A few students who had already slipped into slumber awoke in surprise. ‘What? What’s going on?’ one mumbled, blinking around.
‘He’s going to talk about bleeding fairy tales,’ his neighbour told him. ‘Go back to sleep.’