Tuesday, April 23, 2013
The A to Z Fantastic: Fantasy Rapid Fire Part 2
Without further ado...
When I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time I felt like Alice must have felt when she followed the White Rabbit into Wonderland: I was falling down into a world so deep that I might never come back from it. It was the depth of Lore in LoTR that gripped me from the beginning. The sense that I might explore Middle-earth forever and never learn all there is to know about it. Soon I discovered that the fantasy genre is full of Lore-rich works and I fell hopelessly in love. Finding a new book or series that has a richness of Lore and background/backstory details to lose myself in is my greatest joy while reading.
Magic. It seems to be the one ingredient that everyone can agree is absolutely essential to fantasy literature. But what is Magic? Arthur C. Clarke famously said that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Gene Wolfe wrote that "There is no magic. There is only knowledge, more or less hidden." I've been giving a lot of serious thought to the question of what Magic is lately. I plan on writing a series of posts about it after April. Come back then if you're interested in my conclusions.
One of my favorite tropes of fantasy is Names. In no other genre are Names as important as they are in fantasy. For in fantasy Names can tell you much about a character and their world. Name construction can give you clues into the author's worldbuilding. For instance, in Tolkien's works, the names follow the rules of the various languages he created. One of his names can instantly tell you a character's race and country of origin before you know anything else about them. And the meaning behind the name might give you clues to their character and role in the stories. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, a smart reader could have realized early on that Professor Remus Lupin was a werewolf just from his name. Names in fantasy are like clues to a mystery, a game I the reader am playing with the author. Meta or not, I find it good fun.
An element that fantasy inherited from mythology and the fairy story is the Otherworld. The Otherworld can be either the land of the dead or just a parallel world of spirits and deities. A character in a fantasy novel may interact with the Otherworld by summoning spirits, communicating with the dead, being tricked into venturing there themselves or even crossing the boundary between the worlds of their own free will on a quest. An Otherworld gives a writer a great opportunity to include really strange stuff in their fantasy without having to explain it: the Otherworld has always been a bizarre place.