The Origins of Fantasy?

Last weekend, I was driving through the Pennine Moors and switched the radio on to fend off boredom. It was set to Radio 4, because it helps me keep my speed down and I find it intellectually more stimulating than the lame attempts at slapstick by the Radio 1 DJs. A lady was talking about a fantasy epic that featured enchanted lands and extraterrestrial plains being invaded by large armies and a trickster who carries a bag with a rift to another dimension in its seems. I immediately thought to myself, ‘wow, she’s talking about Raymond Fiest’s Riftwar books.’
I was wrong.
The woman was actually talking about the Hamzanama, also known as the Dastan-e-Amir-Hamza, The Adventures of Amir Hamza (, and its companion, the Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism. The Hamzanama was written over a thousand years ago and supposedly follow the adventures of Hadhrat Hamza, the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), during his youth before the advent of Islam. The original Mughal, King Babar, called it a far-fetched lie and opposed to sense and nature. In other words the stories have become so exaggerated and overblown, that they are as far from the reality of that great man’s life as anything could ever be. The original persian version extended to around 46 or 48 volumes, each running at over 1000 pages long. It was translated into an abridged version in 1562, in the Urdu language by Mughal King Akbar, who apparently was a huge fan and commissioned over a thousand pages of illustrations to go along with the book.
The great news is that it has been translated into English by Musharraf Ali Farooqi and is available in print and on Kindle (
I haven’t read it yet, but I should be receiving my copy of both texts anytime now through the post and will do a proper Goodread review on each one when I’m done. But basically, this is what I’ve been telling you people. The West owes a huge debt to the Muslim world for giving you proper fantasy fiction. Okay so you already had the Greco-Roman and Nordic mythologies (inspired no doubt by the Egyptian and Babylonian mythologies no doubt 😉 but the 1001 Arabian Nights and the Hamzanama have to be the oldest written ‘true’ fantasy fiction stories around. Shakespeare wouldn’t have written Romeo and Juliet if he hadn’t heard the story of Laila and Mujnoon. I know I most certainly am inspired by this heritage. Let me know your thoughts . . .

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