Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Su, John

Second Advisor

Canavan, Gerry

Third Advisor

Flack, Leah


This study argues that the First World War was a key event in the formation of the modern fantasy genre. It asserts that academic literary criticism formed around a set of assumptions that left it ill-equipped to conceptualize the fantastic as a modern mode of writing. By studying veteran English authors of World War I, including Siegfried Sassoon, David Jones, and J. R. R. Tolkien, it identifies the fantastic as an essential means of representing and responding to a set of events that were experienced as incomprehensible, even impossible. Because it offered a safe means of engaging the events of the war, the fantastic provided a means to convey the experience to a disbelieving civilian audience, to grapple with personal and cultural trauma, and to critique the positivist discourses that underwrote political justifications for war. The fantastic mode provided an alternative to rationalism, in an environment so fundamentally twisted that it seemed to escape rationality’s bounds.