This is the second in my series of blog posts exploring the general guidelines or common themes that appear in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror (click here to read The 7 Beauties of Science-Fiction). This whole series started in my science-fiction/fantasy literature class this past Wednesday, when we examined the 7 Beauties of Science-Fiction, we also came up with an original list for the 7 Beauties of Fantasy, and I on my own came up with 5 Beauties of Horror. I thought a series of blog posts sharing and examining these various beauties would be helpful and fun to write, especially when you consider how often the three genres intertwine and overlap.
Now without further ado, here are the 7 Beauties of Fantasy, seven themes or motifs that are found in most fantasy stories, as the examples I pick will show.
1. Character–someone through whose eyes we see this mysterious world. Every fantasy story has at least one focal character, someone through whom the world we’ve been introduced is explained and explored. These sort of characters usually end up becoming heroes of some sort and we end up identifying with them very deeply in the course of the story. Examples include Bilbo Baggins and his nephew Frodo in the Lord of the Rings canon, Eragon in the Inheritance Cycle, and Nick Burkhardt in Grimm.
2. Setting and culture–the magical, mysterious world our character explores. If it’s a fantasy novel, there’s almost a 99% garauntee that the world is nothing like the world we live in, and there’s a 100% certainty that something will need to be explained to us. Be it Middle-Earth, Narnia, or Harry Potter’s Wizarding world, there’s a whole realm to explore, with its own cultures, nations, societies, geographies, floras and faunas, and so much more. It’s up to the author, through the narrator’s eyes, that we find out as much as we need to about it.
3. Novums and Neologisms–technology/tools and words/phrases exclusive to the world we are in. Just like in science-fiction, the world of the story in fantasy has words or devices that are exclusive to that world and that we don’t understand entirely. Be it the Invisibility Cloak and Apparation, or the gedwey ignasia and Eldunari, they make no sense in the context of the real world but they make plenty of sense in the context of a fantasy realm.
4. Adventure(s)–you will go on one. Can you think of a single fantasy novel that doesn’t involve some sort of quest or journey or something along those lines? Neither can I. It seems every fantasy story is predicated on the main character going off to save a princess from a dragon or to toss the One Ring into the boiling flames of Mount Doom or find the genie she’s engaged to but who has been kidnapped by an evil sorcerer. Along the way the character fights enormous perils, learns valuable lessons, and grows as a character until he or she becomes the hero or heroine we all long to be on some level.
5. There are things that can’t be explained rationally. How does magic work? Why can a dragon fly when its body is too big for its wings to reasonably lift it off the ground? How come unicorns have magic in their horns? In a science-fiction novel, television show or movie, everything is based on science, and in theory everything can be explained scientificially. Not so with a fantasy story, which are not based on science but on mysterious forces and strange new worlds to explore and are limited only by the author’s own imagination. So don’t ask how come a sword from a water maiden is more powerful than your average sword or how magic can respond to a blood sacrifice, because you’re not likely to find the answer unless the author wants you to.
6. Familiarity–the characters don’t wake up one morning going “what the heck?” The world of the character is the one they gew up in. They know it like the back of their hand, and it would take much to surprise them in this world. In other words, unless they’re a little baby the world isn’t one they are unfamiliar with. It’s the one they know like the real world is the world we know. Not only that, but the world is somewhat familiar to us. You could channel-flip to HBO and might think you’re watching a special on the War of the Roses or on the Norman invasion, and not realize you’re watching Game of Thrones.
7. Internal history–there’s a history to this fantasyland. This is similar to the “historical extrapolation” beauty in science-fiction, but very different. Sci-fi is what could be possible with our world, so the history is the same for the most part. In fantasy though, the world has a very different history than ours. Different nations, different wars, different cultures, different creatures. This world we are visiting through the story likely has its own history that has its own unique players and events. And probably the one person who knows the full extent of that history is the author of the story his/herself (or sometimes not even then: half the time I’m not sure the writers of Once Upon a Time know where there story is going, let alone the entire history of each and every character).
No matter what, fantasy is always a strange and new exploration of new territory. It’s fun to look into and it’s fun to inhabit. And in some cases, it can even become a phenomena lasting years after the new world has entered ours. Knowing how to examine and analyze such places don’t detract from the story, but they make them all the more fun, all the more beautiful.
At least, I think so. Hope you liked the post and be on the lookout for the 5 Beauties of Horror, coming soon.