As concepts, the fantastic and the sublime share much in common. Both have the power to take a reader outside the scope of his or her own worldview and experience, and both share the paradoxical power to both elevate and humble the human spirit. So it is surprising that few scholars have explored the intersection between these two constructs, and none has attempted to systematically explore how this intersection operates in the context of literary theory. This thesis endeavors to build a theoretical framework for the fantastic sublime by exploring its constituent parts. First, I examine the contribution of the ancient literary critic Longinus, whose basis of the sublime within language informs and infuses the entire concept of the fantastic sublime. Second, I undertake a close reading of J. R. R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories” to illustrate how Tolkien’s higher-order ideas about fantasy complement Longinus’s linguistic building blocks. Finally, I make the case that Romanticism, specifically the work and thought of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is the ideological glue that binds the fantastic sublime together.

Date of publication

Fall 12-13-2016

Document Type




Persistent identifier


Committee members

Catherine E. Ross, Carolyn M. Tilghman, Ann C. Beebe


Master of Arts in English