Some Good Fantasy Short Stories Online

I tried to leave a comment over at Torque Control, but filled it with links, so I expect it disappeared into a spam filter. Easy enough to post here.

A commenter, Saladin Ahmed, asked for suggestions of fantasy short stories, preferably under 3,000 words, that might make a good addition to an undergraduate course on writing fantasy. How could I resist such a request!? I intended to list maybe three or four stories, but kept adding one more, then one more, until I came up with this list, which is still utterly incomplete. (Not all of these pieces fit the length requirement, but so it goes.) I limited myself to one story per writer.


  1. Behold the power of ego google -- it brought me this post, despite the post not showing up at Torque Control. This is great stuff, thanks. Have read some of these and will check out those I haven't.


  2. Hi,
    Thank you very much for these links.

  3. Thank you for the list - it is a great thing for someone like me with great gaps in his reading.

    I have not read most of these stories and don't even know of many of their authors; I can say I'm very curious about them after reading the first story in the list, which was a very pleasurable experience.

    Actually, I am very interested in the motivations you had for picking each of the stories as relevant for a study on writing fantasy, but I realize that such a request is not very considerate toward your own time.

    (but just two questions, please, why A Country Doctor and not The Penal Colony of Kafka's, and why nothing by latin-americans like Borges or Marquez?)

  4. There aren't any Latin Americans because I came up with the list quickly and didn't immediately remember any good online versions of their stories (there are some, at least of Borges, but nothing happened to occur to me at the time). It wasn't an attempt at a comprehensive list, and was utterly improvised. If I were to make it today, it would be a different list, and if I did it tomorrow, it would be different still...

    "A Country Doctor" is pretty much my favorite Kafka story, so that's why I chose it. "Penal Colony" is fine, but doesn't really excite me; the strangeness, surrealism, and ambiguity of "Country Doctor" always amazes me, whereas "Penal Colony" is just a bit concrete for my tastes.

  5. Sorry about that, Matt! I've fished your comment out now.

  6. "If I were to make it today, it would be a different list, and if I did it tomorrow, it would be different still..."

    Yes, I can understand that. It's not the stories, after all, it's how you use them as teaching material. A certain story illustrates certain traits, or techniques or writing fantasy. Is that how it works? I'm sorry if I sound stupidly candid about it, but I've never attended such a class (not having where) and I'm very curious. I keep reading through the stories in the list and asking myself, what would a teacher say about this, or that.

    But thanks for the answer. Also, I share your opinion on the two Kafka stories. I was only thinking that just because The Penal Colony is a more straight story it would be easier to teach in a course...

  7. If you want Latin American authors, give me a day or so and I'm sure I can list a few more besides the following (not sure if all are available in translation, though):

    Julio Cortázar, "Axolotl"

    Borges, "The Aleph," "The Circular Ruins," and well, really most anything by him. "Borges and I" is also a classic.

    Not strictly a fantasy, but Roberto Arlt's "The Little Hunchback" is a favorite of mine, but I think it's closer to 7500 words than to 3000.

    Horacio Quiroga's "The Pillow" (? - I've only read these stories in Spanish and I almost want to say that the English translation is slightly different)

    And I know there are dozens of stories slipping my mind right now. Perhaps I need to thumb through my books soon to refresh my memory. Sadly, most of these aren't available online, although I believe the Quiroga may be avaiable via Google Books.

  8. Great list!

    Is "Zombie Contingency Plans" your favorite story in Magic For Beginners?

    I like it, but to me it feels like it is written in a different key than the other stories in the collection. I usually give writing students "Lull," which is perhaps my favorite (but often flabbergasts my students) or "The Hortlak," which so far has been a real hit with all my classes. And has the best descriptions of pajamas ever. Plus, "Hortlak" actually has zombies in it.

    Zombie Contingency is great in its own way too, but I'm just curious why that particular story made it to the top of the pile. (But don't feel obligated to explain if you're too busy).

  9. I like "Zombie Contingency Plans" a lot, but if forced to choose a favorite from the collection I'd go with either "Lull" or "Stone Animals". I think I put it on the list for two reasons -- one, I was trying to stick as close to Saladin's requested wordcount as possible, so long stories like "Lull" and "Stone Animals" I avoided. Secondly, I was thinking it would be fun to put a couple weird takes on zombies there (e.g. Donald Barthelme's -- there are lots of Barthelme stories I like more, but it's a Barthelme zombie story!) because everything seems to be about zombies these days, and were I teaching a class like this, I'd find it fun to look at some current popular trends and the ways really thoughtful, creative writers approach such material.


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