Fantasy has the longest and richest literary heritage of all of the forms of genre fiction. Indeed, fantasy could be said to be the progenitor from which the other forms came from. Fantasy's habit of taking real-life situations and characters and introducing them into a world where unexpected (and unexplainable) things happen has resonated with readers since the earliest days.
The very first recorded literary works in history were fantasy: the Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer's Odyssey, The Book of a Thousand Nights and a Night (which featured the first appearances of Sinbad and Aladdin) and countless others were the prototypes upon which modern literature was formed.
Many of the most enduring works of popular and literary fiction fall squarely within the realm of fantasy, such as Sir Thomas Mallory's Le Morte D'Arthur, Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book and Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe.
Despite this, fantasy today retains an image of literary inconsequence. English professors are as likely to lump fantasy novels in with romance novels as they are to take them seriously.