What was the earliest school of magic mentioned in modern Fantasy literature, determined by publishing date?

"Modern Fantasy" would be defined as 1880 and later, though I'm tempted to set the era as starting with The Hobbit.

It must be an actual school, meaning:

  • There are several teachers, teaching different subjects to many pupils.
  • There is more than one chronological "class" of students (I mean that some graduate while the others are still learning).
  • The school must be described at least in some level of detail in the book (as opposed to a simple "He was a good magician, educated in Massachusetts Institute of Transfiguration" mention of existence).

The earliest one I can think of is Ursula Le Guin's Roke in the Earthsea books, but there surely were earlier ones. Middle Earth didn't have one to the best of my recollection.

2 Answers 2


The TVTropes page for Wizarding School lists its literary examples in chronological order. Here's the first few (in case the very first one doesn't fit your definitions):

  • Scholomance, traditionally based in Transylvania and run by the devil, was meant to be a school for users of Black Magic. It shows up in the writings of British authors (and Bram Stoker, who was Irish), usually following Scottish writer Emily Gerard's depiction of Transylvanian superstitions.
  • The Robert Sheckley 1954 short story "The Accountant" may contain the very earliest example of a wizards' school in modern fantasy literature. You don't actually see the school, but you do meet little Morton's teacher and learn of his lack of enthusiasm for Thaumaturgy, Conjuring Herbs and the Geography of Greater Hell. All because he wants to be an accountant...
  • Eleanor Estes' The Witch Family was published in 1960. Hannah's school, her classmates and teacher, and subject matter (including witchiplication) are covered in some detail.

Earthsea's school is the fourth example.

  • 2
    Definite +1 for Scholomance - I'd almost forgotten about this one, and since it's based in legend it may very well be the oldest (at least in the West). Jun 17, 2012 at 15:38

This topic has been discussed in fantasy circles before and it is commonly agreed that the modern usage of this trope originated with Theodore Cogswell's short story "The Wall Around The World" published in 1953 (which predates the Sheckley story by a year). It's appeared in several modern anthologies of fantasy fiction and if you read it it's almost uncanny just how clearly it influenced other series such as Harry Potter and Earthsea.


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