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Mixing fantasy with reality


Something I've done a lot of is taking a fantasy character, such as a nixie or an elf, and imagining what it would be like if they were real and living in the world most of us inhabit. One of my favorites was taking a great mage, a dragon rider, and having her imprisoned in a mental institution in our world by an evil sorcerer, stripped of her powers, and subjected to an increasingly degrading regime. Not to go into a lot of detail, but she is eventually rescued by her dragon.

John M

Magical realism, one of my favourite fantasy sub genres. I think it’s something about how it’s not so distant as stories set in a completely different world all together. It feels closer and more relatable. I like both types of fantasy, but it depends on the level of escapism I’m after which I prefer in the moment. If I hate the world I want to get as far away from it as possible, but if I’m in a better mood I prefer magical realism haha.
I also love magical realism, or real world settings, usually in my case historical settings, and including more subtly magical elements. I bang on about Haruki Murakami but he really takes the reader on such an unusual ride through time, space and though our own minds, not a pixie or elf in sight. But, I do like writing in some fantasy races, like wood nymphs and other mythological creatures from folklore.


toujours gai, archie
Peter Beagle did this years ago with Folk of the Air (not to be confused with a more modern series with the same title). He also did it toward the end of his life with the lovely little book, In Calabria. Then there's Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Lots of other examples.

The mixing is also at the core of the entire genre of historical fantasy, which is the field that I farm.
I appreciate and adore the realist takes on magic, and hope to do the same, albeit in a different way, like asking if magick existed in a world like our own, how would it then be used to create or birth creatures/beings from unrelated sorts of fiction? IE, making say a family that transforms into werewolves but only because they used illegal bio-magic on themselves to do so. Would love to read some more of the Magic Creature in Normie Land stories if you know of any in the forums


Myth Weaver
I think all fantasy is trying to imagine what a fantastical creature or element might be like, and apply to it the realism of its place. For me, most things would be assumed to be similar to out current world, with the fantasy elements added to it, and the likely way that changes things.

Its hard to imagine earth if there were elves living among us. Cause so much would be different, it could not be accounted for. But....I am sure I can speculate or a story might work if they had.


toujours gai, archie
It's funny, but on thinking more about this, pretty much everything we do mixes fantasy with reality. Even the most fantastical of stories still doesn't predicate that people don't eat, or that horses don't get tired. We can explicitly predicate exceptions, of course. But even then, characters have to act in "realistic" ways and have motivations that make at least marginal sense to the reader.

When this topic comes up, I think it's more about degree. It's usually about a contemporary setting where the fantastical element is highly restricted (vampires at night, or a unicorn in a remote location), but all else is the world around us. The presence of the fantasy part doesn't usually require modifying physics or chemistry, or even world history. It's all as given, with a dollop of the incredible. The question then is, given the dollop, to what extent is the "real" world jangled? If you really want an array of examples, just turn to comic books, which are fantastical even if not purely fantasy.


toujours gai, archie
My own Altearth project certainly addresses the mix. With historical fantasy, I'm concerned with exploring how much of the history I can retain while injecting massive doses of fantasy.

An example: Altearth's medieval Europa has dwarves and elves and ogres and orcs and most anything else I care to toss in. That was fun until I had to figure out where to put them. Dwarves weren't too difficult. Mountains, right? So dwarves get the Alps and the Carpathians, Apennines, Pyrenees, and sure why not, the Harz, Vosges, and any good run of hills. I gave them a canton-style political organization so I didn't have to deal with kingdoms.

Elves were more difficult. I have them arrive from Atlantis, so from the sea, but wherever I had them, their arrival was pretty disruptive. I wound up having them arrive piecemeal over a century or so, and dispersing fairly rapidly, because elves don't have kingdoms or cantons, or even cities. They live apart, even from each other, except in small groups. So I was able to sprinkle them like salt over the whole continent. Whew.

My biggest challenge now is orcs and trolls. The former have an empire, the latter have five kingdoms. Now where do I put them? Where do I put them without explicitly associating them with the historical people who live there? Well, the orcs conquered the natives. OK, that works. Eventually we can drive out the orcs and "free" the locals. Same for trolls, though a different narrative.

Anyway, that's just one example of having to make adjustments. Here's one more, this time one by choice rather than necessity.

What was I going to do with Christianity and Islam and Judaism? The answer was ready to hand: one predicate of Altearth is that the Roman Empire never fell. So, Roman polytheistic state religion persists. That doesn't directly answer the issue, though. So I just rewrote history to say that these religions "of the book" never made it out of the Middle East. They stayed purely local. I could have gone in a very different direction and explored what happens when these faiths encountered intelligent non-humans, but that's an entirely different project. So I sidelined them.

This opened an unexpected door, though. With the Roman Empire being polytheistic, I was able to look at the orcs in a useful way. I knew I wanted a rival empire, so I postulated that the orcs took one look at the Roman Empire and modeled themselves on that. They took on the whole of the model, except the orcs were monotheistic. They worship the sun god (there's backstory for that). My removing Christianity (et alia) from the story-telling table, I cleared the way for a nice contrast between what eventually becomes the two greatest powers on the planet: Rome and [to be named]. I doubt I'll ever write a book that really explores the tension there, but I feel good about how that developed.

Anyway Part Deux, I offer these examples to show how "mixing fantasy with reality" is or can be a very broad playground. All are invited.