Secret History of Fantasy by Peter S. Beagle, A Short History of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James, and Writing Fantasy by Dr Ceri Sullivan (Editor), Dr Barbara White (editor) are great primers for the fantasy enthusiast as well as the writer. I must add a quick note here: All writers within the genre should own as many books as physically and financially possible as they can; both physical and digital. Creating your own library rich with information helps to shape your understanding and influences about the world in which the unreal is real, and where reality is the reality; the fiction. As a writer, this source of information is your gene bank, your hard disk; your gateway to the world(s) or tale(s) you want to create. It’s set deep in our routes of language and every story is linked in some form or another.
Such fantastical works were not necessarily believed, perhaps only half-believed, but they wrapped around culture and evolved into acceptance. The identifying traits of fantasy are the inclusion of fantastic elements in a self-coherent (internally consistent) setting, where inspiration from mythology and folklore remains a consistent theme. The European Romances of Chivalry and tales such as the Arabian Nights are perfect examples that show these traits.
George MacDonald, Scottish author and poet, is an author that Tolkien studied very closely (also William Morris and Andrew Lang), known for his poignant fairy tales and fantasy novels. One of my MacDonald favourites is Adela Cathcart (1864) which contains The Giant’s Heart and one I advise you to read. By studying and reading other authors work you can learn immensely and stir ideas. For those who have been told to never read the genre you are writing I only have one word to say – poppycock.
These times where filled with the Christian apologetics (the field of Christian theology that presents a rational basis for the Christian faith); even C. S. Lewis had a turbulent indifference with his own faith. However, modern fantasy really thrusts open at the arrival of the modern father of fantasy, J. R. R. Tolkien. Not because of his marvellous works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but largely, I feel, due to his background letters and scholarly works dealing with the world of fantasy. Tolkien created enormous influence within this field, establishing the form called epic fantasy and did much to establish the genre of fantasy as commercially distinct and extremely viable.