Hungarian fantasy is based on the pre-existing anglophone literary traditions and did not develop independently. Hungarian fantastic literature is varied but authors did not form a movement based on the common usage of the surreal and the fantastic, and did not have a mentor-student tradition. Fantastic elements may be significant in a writer’s work and even influences can be observed between authors and writings, but these were isolated examples, and therefore lacked the influence to start a boom of fantasy writings. That came with the abundance of translated foreign fantasy.
Hungarian fantasy appeared in the footsteps of English fantasy literature in the beginning of the eighties, when Péter Kuczka (legendary editor of the Galaktika magazine) and other editors started to publish foreign fantasy within the intellectual and infrastructural boundaries of speculative literature (mostly science fiction). This boom was apparently independent from the autonomous artistic endeavors of the Hungarian fantastic literature of the 20th century.
Hungarian fantasy publication at that time was mostly characterized by the monopoly of state owned publishers, the import of cultural goods, imitation of the anglophone trends in science fiction and fantasy, the national and local fan clubs and the amateur writing and publishing in the shadow of the professional book industry. The pioneers of Hungarian fantasy are mainly publications from the beginning of the eighties like the #45 issue of the Hungarian sci-fi magazine Galaktika (1982) that introduced one of the most popular subgenres: sword and sorcery. The translation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (1981) became the standard of the popular high fantasy subgenre in Hungary.
This was the first time the determining figures of Hungarian fantasy—András Gáspár (pen name Wayne Chapman), Zsolt Kornya (Raoul Renier) and István Nemes (John Caldwell) appeared as editors, writers and translators. The first Hungarian fantasy story is probably The Valley (A völgy) by László Szalkai (Ryan Hawkwood) in the anthology Analog (1983).
The versatility and calling of Zsolt Kornya was apparent even in this amateur period: he wrote articles and worked as an editor (Oberon Books, Helios), publishing his own translations from authors like Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Jorge Luis Borges. In this period two of his short stories were published under his own name (later he took up the alias Raoul Renier). Two of his essays—“Brief introduction to fantasy” (Helios, 1988) and “Another world of imagination—what you need to know about fantasy” (Metamorf #3, 1988) that were published in amateur publications are milestones that created the terminology of the fantasy genre still in use in Hungary.
The peculiar subculture of the amateur fantasy publication and its direct impact on Hungarian fantasy slowly withdrew into the background and its place was filled by the roleplaying game clubs appearing at the end of the eighties and writing workshops and professional publishing enterprises grew out of them.
Before I continue the history of Hungarian fantasy I would like to call attention to an interesting phenomenon. After the turn in 1989–1990 when communism was abolished and capitalist approach became dominant in Hungary, publishers (partly under the pressure from book distributors) required Hungarian authors to use English pen names, because the works of foreign writers sold better. This solution has a long tradition in Hungary, and one of the most popular bestseller authors in the thirties, Jenö Rejtö also used a pen name (P. Howard), for similar reasons. He wrote mainly western and adventure novels about legionnares. There is a similarity between Andre Norton in the United States who used a male pen name when speculative fiction was dominated by male authors. Later this ceased to be a pressure in the United States (partly because of Andre Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley and others) but it is still a living tradition in Hungary.
As I mentioned, the year of the big turn was 1989 when the free market appeared and authors working as amateurs or freelancers in the era of Péter Kuczka’s editorship started their own professional enterprises. New publishers and concepts formed with their help and several fantasy series were launched.
Art Phoenix (later Phoenix) was an important publisher situated in Debrecen, whose series contained works from Hungarian authors and it published a comic magazine called Meeting (Találkozás) that featured short stories as well.
At the end of 1989 the first professional fantasy magazine (called Fantasy) was published. It was founded by the editors of Galaktika magazine, changed to Atlantisz in 1990 and until January 1991 it introduced in thirteen issues the main trends in anglophone fantasy.
The most interesting publisher in this period was perhaps Griff Books. Its first publication, Hoimÿla, by György Koch (Michael Ashcroft) is the first published Hungarian fantasy novel, and the two most popular series of Hungarian fantasy, namely Káosz (Chaos) and M.A.G.U.S. also debuted at Griff. The first book in the Káosz series was The Word of Chaos (A Káosz Szava) by István Nemes (John Caldwell) and the first book in the M.A.G.U.S. series was Blood Season (A Halál havában) by András Gáspár and Csanád Novák (Wayne Chapman).
The carrier of one of the most popular Hungarian fantasy writers, István Nemes, started with The Word of Chaos and its sequels, The Heart of Chaos (A Káosz Szíve, 1990) and The Year of Chaos (A Káosz Éve, 1992). In the eighties, his science fiction short stories and novels were published in fanzines and he became one of the most prolific translators. He edited the fantastic books of Csokonai Publishing, contributed to Phoenix’s Science Fiction & Fantasy series, translating several books. His second novel, written under the pen name Jeffrey Stone together with Zsolt Kornya and Mihály Rácz, the Fight for the Stone of Night (Harc az Éj kövéért) was the opening volume of the memorable Cherubion saga. He started his own enterprise, Cherubion Publishing in 1991 and began the Osiris Books fantasy series in 1992 that had more than one hundred volumes in fifteen years, mostly by Hungarian writers. Many Hungarian authors were first published by Cherubion. István Nemes is still the most prolific writer: according to the biography in Dream Magic (Álomvarázs) anthology in 2001, he had written thirty-eight fantasy novels and thirty fantasy short stories.
In 1991, Csanád Novák and András Gáspár launched Valhalla Páholy Publishing that became a determining factor in the Hungarian fantasy publishing by the middle of the nineties. The co-authored novels, Blood Season and Banners of Flame (Észak lángjai, 1992) were the seeds from which the outstanding epic of András Gáspár, the Tier Nan Gorduin saga, grew. The volumes are: Benefit Match (Jutalomjáték, 1994), Toronian Blood (Toroni vér, 1994), Drop and Sea (Csepp és tenger, 1996), Carnevale (Karnevál, 1997), Eastern Wind I. (Keleti szél I., 1999) and Eastern Wind II. (2006).
The first roleplaying game magazine, Purple Moon (Bíborhold, later Holdtölte) appeared from 1992 to 1995 and by publishing short stories became a nucleus for Hungarian fantasy.
After the publication of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance Chronicles in 1992, game literature, especially roleplaying game fantasy got a footing and became so important that it turned into a synonym for fantasy. This process was furthered by the fact that the Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game influenced both The Word of Chaos and Blood Season and this influence can be felt on the series built around them.
In 1993, Valhalla Páholy published the first major and still the most popular Hungarian roleplaying game, M.A.G.U.S., or the Chronicle of Adventurers, based on the novels of Wayne Chapman. Valhalla Páholy later launched the related Rúna (Rune) magazine, publishing about roleplaying games, science fiction and fantasy. A group of writers formed who wrote novels connected to the M.A.G.U.S. roleplaying game. Short fiction was published either in Rúna or in the Legends and Enigmas (Legendák és Enigmák) anthology series. Notable writers of this circle were: Gábor Csigás, János Galántai (Ray O’Sullivan), Zoltán Galántai (W. Hamilton Green, no relation to János Galántai), Péter Gáspár (Jan van den Boomen, again, no relation to András Gáspár), Viktor Juhász, Zsolt Nyulászi (Dale Avery), Imre Pálinkás (Alan O’Connor) and László Szalkai (Ryan Hawkwood). After Valhalla Páholy ceased, M.A.G.U.S. changed hands several times. The former writing groups re-organized and new authors rose, like Gábor Molnár (John J. Sherwood), György Horváth (Harold Barouche) and Mátyás Massár (Ian Russell).
Cherubion Publishing started a hardcover series (mainly anthologies) under the name Cherubion Fantasy Exclusive which featured mostly Hungarian fiction. Writers who appeared in the Osiris Books and Exclusive series of Cherubion include János Bán (Mór Bán), Szilárd Berke (Eric Muldoom), Tibor Bihon (Robert Knight), Lajos Hüse (Colin J. Fayard), Dániel Paksi (Daniel Duncan Parker), Tibor Szántó (Benjamin Rascal), Norbert Tóth (Allen Newman), László Tölgyesi (Douglas Rowland) and Zsuzsa Vikopál (Susan Salina).
Zsolt Kornya found a large readership in the Exclusive series, writing dark fantasy stories, later Valhalla Páholy published his M.A.G.U.S. novels, Steel and Lion (Acél és oroszlán, 1994), Crown and Chalice (Korona és kehely, 1995) and Hell (Pokol, 1999). His short story from the first anthology, The Legacy (Az örökség, 1994) became the first book in his well known Dark Mersant cycle (Sötét Mersant). Other volumes in the series include The Apostate (A hitehagyott, 1996), The Damned (A kárhozott, 1997) and The Outsider (A kívülálló, 2001).
Zsolt Nyulászi and László Szalkai, leaving Valhalla Páholy in 1996 started their own publishing house (Nîtor) and created a Chinese-esque roleplaying game, Codex, with three related anthologies, mostly with the contribution of M.A.G.U.S. authors but introducing new writers as well. Júlia Goldman (J. Goldenlane) is an outstanding new writer whose adventure novels were published mainly by Beholder Publishing. Titles are: Divine Heist (Isteni balhé, 2001), The Swindler and the Magician (A szélhámos és a varázsló, 2001), Paper Tiger (2002).
In 1999, Benefícium Publishing started an anthology series set in the world of the Ars Magica roleplaying game (Regnum Hermeticum, 1998; Maleficium Hermeticum, 1999), and an anthology based on the Chtulhu myth. Leading authors of the publishing house are Viktor Juhász, Gábor Csigás and Zsolt Szántai (Le Renard).
Near the millennium the writers started to play on the motifs of Hungarian mythology and legends. János Bán used a Hungarian alias, Mór Bán for his Kárpáthia series (2000), set in a technocrat fantasy alternative of the Carpathian Basin. Sándor Szélesi and Tibor Fonyódi, leaving Cherubion Publishing also launched a fantasy series that reinvented pagan Hungarian myths and the Attila-legend.
Delta Vision Publishing, known formerly as the translator of foreign fantasy, mainly RPG fantasy starts its own writing workshop in 2004. The City Within (Város két fül között, 2005), a novel by Csilla Kleinheincz, and the Seventy-seven (Hetvenhét) anthology, both published in the series Delta Mühely, consisting of works by new Hungarian authors, belong to the modern fantasy subgenre. Roham (Attack) magazine was launched in 2005 also with the intent of broadening Hungarian audiences’ exposure to Hungarian fantasy.
Translated by Csilla Kleinheincz
This article originally appeared in Roham magazine #3, 2006.