Date Approved


Graduate Degree Type


Degree Name

English (M.A.)

Degree Program


First Advisor

Dr. Corinna McLeod

Second Advisor

Dr. Rachel Anderson

Third Advisor

Dr. Brian Deyo

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Sherry Johnson

Academic Year



The history of modern fantasy has been powerfully shaped by the worldbuilding paradigm so successfully executed in J.R.R. Tolkien's 1954-55 trilogy The Lord of the Rings. However, there were nearly a hundred and fifty years of creative work between the birth of fantasy as a genre and Tolkien’s publication of The Lord of the Rings. By examining the pre-Tolkienian fantasists, we find that Tolkien's way of exhaustive consistency was not, and is not, the only way to write fantasy. Phantastes (1858), the first novel by the influential Victorian fantasist George MacDonald, defies contemporary worldbuilding standards almost constantly in its use of references to real world phenomena within Fairy Land and its inclusion of elements that have no precedent or rules of explanation elsewhere in the book. Yet these are not failures of worldbuilding, but instead instances of a consistent alternative paradigm to worldbuilding that I call ‘aesthetic cohesion.’ This method draws upon the forms of German Romanticism to bind the elements of the novel together, using implicit principles of mood and evocation. In this thesis, I argue that Worldbuilding is a legitimate mode for writing fantasy, but its hegemony has forced into one narrow path the genre that, perhaps more than any other, has the potential for unlimited diversity.