Fantasy: Realms of imagination

Island shorline with ship.
Ancient mappe of Fairyland newly discovered set forth and designed by Bernard Sleigh (1918) © British Library Board

Available for international tour from Spring 2024, this exhibition explores the development of Fantasy literature, film and games from the ancient world to the present day.

This unique exhibition tells the story of the development of Fantasy from the earliest works up to the present day. It will look at how the genre developed and why people have always been drawn to it either as an escape from reality or as a chance to reflect on our world.

Exhibits will include manuscripts and books, 3D objects, artworks, film and videogames. Audio visual elements and interactives will feature interviews with authors and creators, and the perspective of fans.

Specialist advisory panel

Curated by a team of British Library experts, the exhibition is also led by an advisory group of fantasy authors including:

  • Neil Gaiman
  • Roz Kaveney
  • Terri Windling
  • Aliette de Bodard

who will feature in the exhibition through interviews and loans from their own collection.

Exhibition themes

The exhibition is divided into four main themes:

1. Fairy and Folk Tales

Fairy and folk tales are at the roots of Fantasy. They are endlessly fluid and cross borders of time, place and culture, beginning in oral tradition as folklore and later collected and written down as literature.

Enchantments, spells, magical transformations, supernatural agencies and encounters with other worlds are the key ingredients that fairy and folk tales lend to Fantasy.

2. Epics and Quests

Epics and quest stories are among the oldest forms of literature. They have inspired and influenced writers of fantasy from the earliest days of the genre, embodying themes such as heroism, battle and adventure.

Today many writers are reshaping familiar tales to tell the stories of marginalised characters and moving away from the traditional dominance of European classical and medieval influences.

3. Weird and Uncanny

This section reveals how Fantasy evokes fear and uncertainty through the weird and uncanny. Otherworldly architectures and lurking monsters terrify some, but inspire delight and wonder for others. Fantasy’s shadowy visions are some of its most beloved and have shifted over time to reflect changing attitudes and prejudices.

4. Worlds and Portals

Intricate world-building allows us as readers to immerse ourselves in another reality and discover worlds beyond our own. Languages, geographies, creatures and cultures have been carefully constructed by fantasy creators. Whilst some works of fantasy take place entirely in another realm, others use portals to move to a different world or time, and this forms a particularly important motif in children’s literature. Meanwhile, fantasy fandom is a world in itself, with fantasy fans having a key role in keeping the genre fresh and current.


Fantasy is continually reinvented by its fan communities, whose fresh imaginative takes on existing works continue to develop fantasy worlds and stories and the exhibition will close with a small section devoted to fandom.

This is also an opportunity to include objects or commentary from the venue’s own collection or audience through community outreach, in order to localise the exhibition and demonstrate the worldwide relevance of Fantasy.

Featured authors and artists

The exhibition features over 100 authors, artists and creatives including:

JRR Tolkien, Ursula K Le Guin, Lewis Carroll, Terry Pratchett, Studio Ghibli,Arthur Rackham, Susanna Clarke, L Frank Baum, Jonathan Swift, CS Lewis, Mervyn Peake, Franz Kafka, Diana Wynne Jones, Neil Gaiman.

See also the Fantasy: Realms of Imagination (PDF) exhibition brochure.


Available from 2024

Min. space required –400m2

Hire fee includes:

  • Curation and concept
  • Objects and mounts
  • Administration and tour management by the British Library
  • All label and panel text (in English) along with design files.
  • Education and public programmes content (including selected filmed lectures)
  • Exhibition AV content –films, audio, interactives (3rdparty content requires clearance)

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