In a recent and valuable appreciation of Lord Dunsany on Tor.com, Jo Walton issued the following pronouncement that sort of freaked me out.
Lord Dunsany wasn’t writing fantasy, because what he was writing was defining the space in which fantasy could later happen.
I think it makes sense to draw a line between the modern fantasy genre and the work in older traditions which has influenced modern fantasy. Beowulf and the Odyssey aren’t fantasy fiction in the sense that The Hobbit is.
But British writers had been writing straight-up fantasy for half a century before Dunsany started publishing. MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin or Morris’ The Well at the World’s End are fantasy in precisely the same sense that Tolkien’s fiction is, and they’re obviously part of a continuous genre tradition.
And this notion that genre-establishing work can or should be categorically excluded from the genre it establishes strikes me as inherently untenable.