Loafing about in pubs can still be an educational way to spend the time. I’d just bought tickets for the Warner Bros Harry Potter experience and we were talking about how many British fantasy authors there were. It also seemed odd that, for a fairly restrained nation, we really let rip when it came to writing stories about elves and other things that didn’t exist.

Mildly intrigued, I spent some time tooling about on Wikipedia and Nielsen and came up with the following facts: 

  • Globally, fantasy is now the best-selling literary genre.
  • Of the 35 bestselling authors world wide in any genre (outside of religious texts), 16 write fantasy.
  • Of those 16, an astonishing 13 are British.

Why does a nation of supposed boozers; bankers; tea drinking, stately home living, uptight apologists and football hooligans write the best-loved and most widely read fantasy in the world?

So I decided to make a program about it. I treated the experience like a good, old-fashioned quest.

Fairly early on, it was clear that people had very different theories, which can be summarised as follows:


Has our often unconventional education system produced a nation of free thinkers? Or have we just never outgrown nanny – let’s face it, so much of the children’s market is popular with adults. So we revel in escapism, excel at stories about creatures that live under the bed.

In fact, our special relationship with nature where animals are friends and equals, not something to be feared or eaten is ingrained from an early age with children’s writers who create worlds of squirrels who wear Sunday best, scrupulously polite bears with wide circles of stuffed toy friends – from Toad to Tiggywingle, Pooh to Paddington.

Unique Geography

Another possible reason is our 11,000-mile coastline, which left us vulnerable to endless incursions, making Britain a cultural cooking pot, and creating a secondary invasion of myths and legends.


Are we no more imaginative than the next nation, just better at repackaging tall tales from other parts of the world and selling it back to them? Tolkein and Rowling both borrow heavily from Norse and Celtic legend, Lewis the Bible and they then sold it to the world. Great marketing or greater storytelling?


Have endless invasions and empire-building fostered our appetite for warfare? So much of fantasy writing delights in conflict, which seems to reflect our warlike past and status. Conflict and war have been a major influence on fantasy greats like Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

A Nation of Eccentrics

Our unique humour underpins some of our greatest fantasy literature; from Alice in Wonderland to Terry Pratchett. Our ability to not take ourselves too seriously, endears us to readers the world over. Let’s face it; we are funny ‘ha ha’ and funny odd – where else could Monty Python & The Holy Grail have come from?

The Legend of Arthur, archetypal Briton

Or is it something deeper in our past, something in our cultural DNA? In all the discussions one name keeps cropping up: Arthur Pendragon. The tales of King Arthur are embedded in the minds of the British people and woven into our geography from Carlisle to Cornwall. The figure of Arthur has come to represent British history and our personality in its entirety, the stories acting as a way of explaining how Britain has come to be, especially in reference to the relationship between the Saxons and the Celts. Certainly, the story has proven particularly popular during times of social unrest due to its unfaltering moral stability.


I think we should look to our contradictions to understand our cohesion. Only in Britain do we have the violent history, the contradictions and dottiness to write such prolific, best-selling fantasy literature. The banker, the football hooligan and the diffident gent who is actually quite an eccentric are not at odds, rather all absolutely necessary to produce the magic and mayhem, the gentle madness with which we enchant and captivate the world without.

Our love of literature is key to understanding us as a nation and will be explored in the documentary of the same name – check it out below!

Robin Bennett is an author and entrepreneur. Aged 21 he was all set to become a cavalry officer and aged 21 and a half, he found himself working as an assistant grave digger in South London wondering where it had all gone wrong.

His first book for young adults, Picus the Thief, won the Writer’s News Indie Published Book of the Year Award in 2012. Iron Knights, a YA fantasy adventure, was shortlisted for the Wishing Shelf Awards and the Hairy Hand, runner up in the Times Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition. Robin is a regular speaker at worldwide conferences on fantasy literature.

Robin has also founded over a dozen successful businesses and has written 3 books on entrepreneurship and investment.