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This interdisciplinary two-day workshop is devoted to the construction of fantastical worlds across various narrative media from antiquity to the present. The conference is hosted by the University of Amsterdam and will take place on Thursday 30th June – Friday 1st July 2022. Keynote Speakers are Dr Benjamin Stevens (Trinity University) and Dr Rutger Allan (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam). The organisers are Caterina Fossi MA (University of Amsterdam), Dr Merlijn Breunesse (University of Amsterdam), and Koen Vacano MA (University of Amsterdam).

In recent years, media and literary studies have drawn attention to the process of constructing ‘imaginary’ or ‘secondary’ worlds. We define these fantastical universes as fictional worlds that involve creatures and/or events whose existence and/or occurrence is impossible in our actual world. Being often heterotopic and heterochronic and endowed with their own geographies, populations, histories, governments, etc., fantastical worlds may in complex ways reflect, contrast, and/or transcend ordinary reality. 

Yet while this phenomenon is generally considered to originate in Tolkien, fantastical worldbuilding can be recognised in antiquity as well. Recent studies in classical literature and receptions have emphasised the fantasy-like quality of classics like Homer’s Odyssey, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and Plato’s eschatological myths (Rogers & Stevens, 2017: 8-9; Nightingale 2002a, 2002b), while linguists and narratologists have brought to light literary devices that might be used by ancient authors to construct fantastical worlds and mediate the audience’s experience of them (e.g., Allan 2020; de Jong 2009; Ryan 1991). 

Rarely, however, has the connection been made between the classical and contemporary construction of fantastical worlds, let alone between classics and modern media studies. The overarching aim of the workshop is to launch such an interdisciplinary discussion in search of a comparative, diachronic perspective on fantastical worldbuilding. 

Principally, the workshop will focus on the how of fantastical worldbuilding, i.e., on the devices and techniques used in different times and media to create a fantastical world, as well as the ways in which this world is presented as different from yet somehow anchored in reality.  

We invite papers that address one (or more) of the following research questions: 

  1. What devices do authors or artists use to construct fantastical worlds? (E.g., common ground management, deixis, the general rendering of time and space) 
  2. How are these fantastical worlds anchored to the audience’s actual world, and what devices are used to express this relationship? (E.g., metalepsis, immersive/enactive devices, shifts in the deictic centre) 
  3. How do fantastical worlds encourage the audience to reflect on the actual world? (E.g., metaphor, metonymy, contrast) 
  4. What differences and similarities exist between the construction of fantastical worlds in different periods and different media? 
  5. How are the devices used by ancient authors to construct fantastical worlds reused (consciously or unconsciously) in later times?  

We are interested in contributions from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds that discuss the construction of fantastical worlds in or across different media (e.g., written narratives, drama, film, television, video games). Papers may focus on single narratives, authors, and periods, or discuss fantastical worldbuilding techniques more broadly, e.g., from a theoretical, comparative or reception point of view. 

The workshop will take place in Amsterdam on the 30th of June and the 1st of July 2022. Should the state of the pandemic require it, the workshop will be held on the same days as either a hybrid or a virtual event.  

We invite submissions for 25-minute presentations. To register your interest, please submit an anonymous abstract of max. 400 words (excluding references and bibliography) to by the 15th of March 2022. Your name and affiliation should be included in the body of your email. We aim to respond no later than the 15th of April. 

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions: Caterina Fossi (, Merlijn Breunesse ( and Koen Vacano ( 

This workshop is generously funded by OIKOS, the National Research School in Classical Studies in the Netherlands, and the gravitation project Anchoring Innovation.  



Allan, R.J., 2020: “Narrative Immersion: some linguistic and narratological aspects”, in Huitink, L.; Grethlein, J. and Tagliabue, A. (eds), Experience, Narrative and Literary Criticism in Ancient Greece, Oxford, 15- 35. 

de Jong, I.J.F., 2009: “Metalepsis in Ancient Greek Literature”, in Grethlein, J. and Rengakos, A. (eds), Narratology and Interpretation. The Content of Narrative Form in Ancient Literature, Berlin, 87–115. 

Nightingale, A.W., 2002a: “Toward an Ecological Eschatology: Plato and Bakhtin on Other Worlds & Times”, in Branham, R. B. (ed), Bakhtin and the Classics, Evanston, IL, 220-249. 

Nightingale, A.W., 2002b: “Distant Views: ‘Realistic’ and ‘Fantastic’ Mimesis in Plato”, in 

Annas, J. and Rowe, C. (eds), 2003: New Perspectives on Plato, Modern and Ancient, Washington, DC, 227-47. 

Rogers, B.M. & Stevens, B.E. (eds), 2017: Classical Traditions in Modern Fantasy, Oxford. 

Ryan, M.L., 1991: Possible Worlds, Artificial Intelligence, and Narrative Theory, Bloomington and Indianapolis. 

Wolf, M.J.P., 2012: Building Imaginary Worlds. The Theory and History of Subcreation, New York & London. 

Wolf, M.J.P. (ed), 2018: The Routledge Companion to Imaginary Worlds, New York & London.