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The Secret History of Fantasy

3.89  ·  Rating Details ·  352 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews
Step right up and buy your ticket to the impossible marvels of the Barnum Museum. Take a highly caffeinated ride through the Empire of Ice Cream. If you dare, hunt feral archetypes deep within a haunted English forest. Or conquer the New World with a band of geographically-challenged Norsemen.

Tired of the same old fantasy? Here are the stories you’ve never imagined possibl
Paperback, First Edition, 379 pages
Published September 15th 2010 by Tachyon Publications (first published July 22nd 2010)
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The Gunslinger by Stephen KingLegends by Robert SilverbergThe Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne BishopDeadly Curiosities by Gail Z. MartinColour of Magic - Disc world #1 by Terry Pratchett
Exploring Fantasy
58th out of 112 books — 3 voters
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Best of Yann Martel
6th out of 11 books — 3 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Feb 07, 2011 Carol. rated it really liked it
Amazing fantasy stories that break the stereotype of what "fantasy" is. Contains an interesting discussion of the topic by Ursula Le Guin, which provided me with insight on the development of the "fantasy" field and subsequent dividing of genre fiction. Enjoyed "Ancestor Money" by Maureen McHugh. Admired the cleverness of Gregory Maguire's "Scarecrow," yet another take on the "Wizard of Oz" with some existential philosophy. Patricia McKillip was vaguely haunting in "Lady of the Skulls." I ...more
Linda Robinson
Jun 04, 2014 Linda Robinson rated it liked it
Peter Beagle's introduction tells us that once upon a time all literature was fantasy. Ancient peoples sitting around the campfire had to explain what made the sun come up, and before nodding off, everyone probably joined in praying for it to do the same tomorrow. There was fantasy, and then there was literature and literary critics, and academia, and thus genrefication. Fantasy writing was consigned to children's literature. I was surprised to discover in the essay by David Hartwell at the back ...more
Jun 29, 2014 Mike rated it really liked it
This is another anthology I picked up on the recommendation of Charlie Jane Anders.

Up to the Michael Swanwick story, I found all these stories at least vaguely familiar, which suggests I've read this collection before (at least that far). I may have stopped after the Swanwick because I disliked it. Although not every story in this volume was to my taste - something that's unlikely to happen unless I edit an anthology myself - there were still some fine ones.

The basic premise of the Secret Histor
Oct 06, 2015 Lissibith rated it really liked it
The Secret History of Fantasy is a 19-story collection of what I'm given to understand is unusual or different fantasy, along with a couple nonfiction essays about the genre as a whole (and of course, the forward by Peter Beagle). Taken as a whole, it was a varied and sometimes fascinating read, though as in any short story collection, there were a few that just flat didn't work for me.

To start things off - I finally found a Gaiman story that I liked! It's like a miracle! His "Snow, Glass, Appl
Laurence Burke
Feb 10, 2013 Laurence Burke rated it really liked it
This anthology of short stories, edited by Peter S. Beagle (best known as the author of "The Last Unicorn"), includes the introductory essay by Beagle and concluding essays buy Ursula K. Le Guin and David G. Hartwell that address the historical development of genre fiction - and especially the fantasy genre - and that development's role in narrowing the expectations of the average reader about what kind of story gets labeled "fantasy." All three, to varying extents, rail against the ...more
Nicholas Ozment
Feb 08, 2011 Nicholas Ozment rated it it was amazing
One of the best reprint short story collections I have read. Introductory material by the exemplary editor (and fabulous writer) Peter S. Beagle and essays by Ursual K. Le Guin and David Hartwell provide persuasive defenses of fantasy's place in serious literature (and specifically fantasy that is not of the commodified Tolkien-imitation quest variety), but the real proof comes from the stories themselves.

"The Barnum Museum" by Steven Millhauser really spells out why we love fantasy; why we rea
Claudia Piña
Siempre me ha gustado mucho el género fantastico, pero como todo mundo, suelo encontrar que en esa sección de la librería hay muchos libros con portadas de vikingos musculosos y/o doncellas con delgados vestidos y orejas puntiagudas junto a un lago en medio del bosque a la luz de la luna.

Sin embargo, hay mas en la fantasía que ese tipo de libros. Como este. Aquí, Peter S. Beagle reunió varias historias de fantasía que están del otro lado del género. Que no necesitan elfos ni espadas para ser fa
Monica Davis
Aug 13, 2016 Monica Davis rated it really liked it
If you'd like to sample a variety of fantasy genre writings, this is the book for you; a collection of short stories by nineteen well-known authors in the fantasy genre. Some hits, some misses...a few incredible gems worthy of 5 stars; but I rated the book four stars based on the sum of all parts.

The standouts for me: The Vita Aeterna Mirror Company by Yann Martel (author of Life of Pi) is extraordinary; brilliantly crafted. Sleight of Hand by Peter S. Beagle (author of The Last Unicorn) ins
Apr 24, 2012 Amy rated it it was amazing
Every story in this collection had something of value, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading each one.

My favorites, for their wit, wonder, and vividness, were:

1. Scarecrow, by Gregory Maguire - how the scarecrow got hooked up with dorothy

2. The Barnum Museum, by Steven Millhauser - where the museum is the protagonist

3. Snow, Glass, Apples, by Neil Gaiman - a dark retelling of Snow White

4. 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss, by Kij Johnson - a magical tale of mysterious wonder and moving on

...and LeGuin's ess
Jul 11, 2011 Peggy rated it really liked it
Although I understand the frustration of writers tired of being marginalized, it's difficult to talk about without sounding whiny. Ursula LeGuin manages; Beagle, not so much. But none of that takes away from the fact that this is a stellar anthology whose lineup of participating authors should open a few eyes regarding “fantasy literature.” Particular favorites include Steven Millhauser's “The Barnum Museum,” “The Empire of Ice Cream” by Jeffrey Ford, Octavia E. Butler's “The Book of Martha,” ...more
A.E. Marling
Jan 07, 2015 A.E. Marling rated it really liked it
I met Peter Beagle on his illustrious screening tour of the Last Unicorn, and I bought this book on a whim. The quality and variety of stories delighted me. The Lady of Skulls by Patricia A. McKillip told of a woman trapped in a cursed tower. Snow, Glass, Apples is the darkest story I've read by Neil Gaiman and the best. It retells the story of Snow White from the evil stepmother's point of view.
Sep 08, 2011 Brenda rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
There were some good stories here, and some I just completely skipped over because they weren't interesting to me at all. Overall a pretty good collection of short fantasy stories. (Keep in mind I'm not really a fan of short stories)
Alessandro Gazoia
Jan 03, 2011 Alessandro Gazoia rated it liked it
Stupidamente pensavo che un libro intitolato The Secret History of Fantasy fosse un saggio o una raccolta di interventi critici e storici sul fantasy... Il sintagma "secret history" mi pareva una concessione all'immaginario del genere da non tenere troppo in conto (se è vero che non si può giudicare un libro dalla copertina o dal titolo, è anche vero che il titolo "la storia segreta di" spesso prelude a libri con poca storia e nessun segreto).
Questo volume è invece una raccolta di racconti (tecn
Nov 09, 2014 Adam rated it really liked it
I've been looking for non-formulaic fantasy works semi-systematically for a year or so now, and this seemed like a promising avenue to scout the field. I've enjoyed stuff by Peter Beagle, Neil Gaiman, Octavia Butler, Ursula LeGuin, and Susanna Clarke quite a bit, so I hoped to find some comparable writers in this anthology.

Like most short story collections, this one was hit and miss. Nothing had quite the power or originality I was hoping for. A couple of them were executed with a sense of psyc
Sep 18, 2010 Red rated it really liked it
This is a very good collection of fantasy short stories. There are authors I've read (Stephen King, Susanna Clarke, Neil Gaiman), authors I've heard of (Ursula Le Guin, Aimee Bender), and authors I've never heard of (Steven Millhauser, Robert Holdstock, Kij Johnson).

I have to say, Peter Beagle won me over in his introduction when he told a story about Sword of Shannara. He was asked for a jacket quote, and he was only a few chapters in when he called up the person who'd asked him and told her, b
Rita Varian
Dec 26, 2012 Rita Varian rated it really liked it
This is a strong batch. It's hard for me to pick a few favorites to describe; that would take brains & subtlety and I've just got anger so I'm going to bounce off Ursula LeGuin's critical essay near the end. It was first published in 2007. Now I don't know when term "Magical Realism" came into play, but you may have heard me mention how much I hate it (just the category; I tend to like the books that are assigned to it).

So in "The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists", LeGuin is arguing
Jul 10, 2016 Liz rated it really liked it
I truly enjoyed this collection of fantasy stories that Beagle out together, mostly because it stayed away from the "epic" or "sword and sorcery" sub-genre that seems to dominate the genre as a whole and serves as a stereotype for fantasy geeks.

Some of the stories I didn't care for as much, but there weren't any I completely hated, and some of them I loved.

The standouts:

"The Lady of Skulls" by Patricia McKillip: This story is as close the anthology gets to sword and sorcery. A fable-like tale o
Jun 12, 2016 Brian rated it liked it
Favorite stories from this collection:
Ancestor Money by Maureen F. McHugh
What happens when you die? How do your descendants remember you? What if? This story is fun, slightly irreverent, and thought provoking. Lots of buildup, quick descent, sticks with you.

Lady of the Skulls by Patricia McKillip
What is love? What is treasure? What is worth it? This story is almost saccharine and a bit preachy, but a cute attempt to create something unexpected.

The Barnum Museum by Steven Millhauser
A great demons
Jul 20, 2016 Micha rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favourite anthologies and where I found one of my new favourite authors (the other being Marie Brennan, author of the wonderful Natural History of Dragons series).

Initially I wanted to read this collection for old favourites: Peter S. Beagle, Ursula K Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, and Kij Johnson, but imagine my wonder and surprise when the story that gave the most impact belonged to none other than Gregory Maguire's short and brilliant story - [i]The Scarecrow[/i] (worth four stars
Oct 16, 2010 malrubius rated it liked it
Pretty good stuff. I wanted to give this four stars except most of the best stories I had already read elsewhere, which means, I think, that it's not very "secret," at least not to me. Anyhow, some standout stories: I haven't read much Steven King but his "Mrs Todd's Shortcut" (which I hadn't read before even though it was apparently written in 1984) was probably my favorite of the bunch. I have master's in literature, so I'm not supposed to read Steven King (sarc), but he sure knows how to ...more
Apr 25, 2011 Alice rated it really liked it
It's always tricky, rating anthologies. The stories always vary wildly in enjoyment level, tone, reread value, writing style, and a number of other factors. If I enjoyed one story on a five-star level, and another one on a two-star, do I average them out? Do I go with how I felt about most of the stories?

In the end, I'm trying to look at this as a whole, and I have to admit, Ursula LeGuin's essay at the end about how to look at fantasy and its role versus "literary" writing, goes a long way to t
Apr 01, 2012 Becky rated it really liked it
This is an impressive collection of fantasy short stories, most of them from the last two decades. I enjoyed most of them unreservedly. There are also two excellent essays at the back about the history of fantasy and its relationship to the literary canon.

I didn't like the way that the book was packaged, with the tag line of "fantasy is back" - there has been a continuous tradition of thoughtful, well-written fantasy in the twentieth century; it's just been overlooked and then overshadowed by b
Aug 16, 2015 Feda rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I found the stories contained in this book to be hit or miss, ranging from great down to having to skip a story part-way through out of boredom. I got stuck early on and struggled to continue reading but I am glad that I eventually did so, because the later stories get better. It was not the type of a book that you can’t put down and you just have to keep reading no matter how late it gets. I found that I needed a break after reading some of the stories but some of the ones I liked definitely ...more
John Orman
Jan 08, 2013 John Orman rated it really liked it
Supposedly the "secret" is that fantasy is back, better than ever.
Upon viewing the recent phenomena of books and movies about Star Wars, Superman, Batman, Avengers, Lord of the Rings, Hobbit, and Harry Potter, I would agree!

This engaging compilation of cutting-edge, non-traditional fantasy includes works by Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Octavia Butler, but also many other lesser-known but very talented authors.
Besides the stories, I really enjoyed the recent essays by David Hartwell, "The Makin
Feb 02, 2016 Sarah rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this collection of fantastical short stories. One that really stood out to me was "The Empire of Ice Cream" by Jeffrey Ford. Without giving away too much of the plot (which would ruin it), this was such an imaginative and creative idea for a story. The writing was somewhat difficult to get used to - those always turn out to be my favorite - yet it drew you in as you kept reading. I did have to skip some of "The Barnum Museum", as I found it disjointed and didn't really ...more
Wonderful fantasy purist's anthology - No magic, melodrama or SciFi, simply realism

Loved it!! Quite refreshing for a change!!

Especially loved the sweet and wonder-inspiring "MRS. TODD'S SHORTCUT" by Stephen King, and the incredibly clever "SNOW, GLASS, APPLES" by Neil Gaiman.

Also sweet and wonderful were "BEARS DISCOVER FIRE" by Terry Bisson, "THE VITA AETERNA MIRROR COMPANY" by Yann Martel, and "THE BARNUM MUSEUM" by Steven Millhauser. T. C. Boyle was very entertaining with his combination of s
Paper Droids
Oct 12, 2012 Paper Droids rated it liked it
Edited by Peter S. Beagle, with short stories by some of your favourite fantasy authors!

The Secret History of Fantasy is an anthology of short stories by some of the best fantasy writers in the business, including Stephen King, Gregory Maguire, Yann Martel, Ursula K. Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, and Beagle himself.

In his introduction, Beagle presents this anthology as a light in the dark, dull void that the fantasy genre has become. He references Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings numerous times, commen
May 20, 2014 Magdelanye rated it really liked it
Well selected,for the most part excellently written,short stories by a variety of authors,both well known and obscure.

I especially enjoyed The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford, who observes

'that everyone, at a point somewhere below consciousness,experiences the coinciding of sensory association,yet in most cases it is filtered out and only a single sense is given predominence in one's waking world...'only
"one of the 5 portals through which reality invades us" p151

and The Edge of the World by
Sep 10, 2016 Kinsey_m rated it liked it
It is always difficult to rate an anthology, and even more so in this case, as it contains excellent stories (the edge of the world, the empire of ice cream, ), interesting stories (26 monkeys also the abyss, the mythago wood, bears discover fire, super goat man), several average-unmemorable ones (even from authors who have written muuuuuuuuuuch better short stories) and even, in the case of Octavia Butler, a short story that I had to force myself to finish because it was grating on my nerves(I ...more
Dawn Albright
Jul 18, 2014 Dawn Albright rated it it was amazing
One of the best anthologies I can ever remember reading. I had only read two of the stories before (OK,"Bears Discover Fire" has been reprinted so many times they really probably should have skipped that one, good as it is.) There is so much breadth and variety here, I think this demonstrates what the fantasy field is capable of more than anything else I have ever read.

I remember seeing Mythago Woods all over bookstores when it came out and for some reason I had assumed it was generic crap. Afte
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Peter Soyer Beagle (born April 20, 1939) is an American fantasist and author of novels, nonfiction, and screenplays. He is also a talented guitarist and folk singer. He wrote his first novel, A Fine and Private Place , when he was only 19 years old. Today he is best known as the author of The Last Unicorn, which routinely polls as one of the top ten fantasy novels of all time, and at least two of ...more
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“I want to say to the literature teacher who remains wilfully, even boastfully ignorant of a major element of contemporary fiction: you are incompetent to teach or judge your subject. Readers and students who do know the field, meanwhile, have every right to challenge your ignorant prejudice. Rise, undergraduates of the English departments! You have nothing to lose but your A on the midterm!” 4 likes
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