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What is fantasy?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Another_Magician, Aug 19, 2016.

  1. Another_Magician

    Another_Magician Acolyte

    Hey all, new to the forum but wanted to get a feel for it. So start with a very open ended question as the post dictates. Is fantasy quasi-European history, Knights, inns, Mage guilds and such?

    That seems to be the prevailing opinion, and I don't want to go down that track. So how do you, as an author, distance yourself from stereotypes of the genre, or do you adhere to them and why?

    I'm not at all fond of European, magic swords, bearded wizards, taverns, elves, dwarves type fantasy (though I know many who write it so, sorry bout that.) Fantasy means you can make up your own rules, your own magic, your own cultures, your own creatures, and that's why I love it. Fantasy is breaking reality's rules, basically.
  3. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    And writing about wizards, elves, and magic isn't breaking the rules of reality? I'm not sure why'd you want to write fantasy if you're seeking to avoid the tropes that readers look for and rely on when buying/reading the genre.
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I think the best word to describe fantasy would be otherworldly, where things happen in a way that's very different from the world we live in. I always think of swords and sorcery, but probably an "OR" would be more appropriate - swords or sorcery, worlds in what we see as the past, or worlds with magic.

    But, y'know, it all depends, and I'm not a big fan of complicated taxonomies of the genre. For instance, is Steampunk fantasy or sci-fi? I mean, classic steampunk definitely feels very sci-fi, but steamtech has gotten to be the norm in many fantasy settings. It's a question I don't really feel needs an answer.
  5. Rely on? Fantasy doesn't rely on those tropes. Lots of readers look for those things in a fantasy book, but not all. My fantasy doesn't have any of those things, but it's still fantasy.

    Mine is more superpowers, scary creatures and dragons, in a sweltering, disease-ridden tropical climate with an oppressive dystopian theocracy...

    Not that I don't enjoy a good wizard, elf, dwarf, magic sword story...Its just not what I choose to write about.

    The appeal of fantasy about the sheer variety of things you can do with it. Birds that fly with cities on their backs? Sure. Living bubbles that eat the souls of dead warriors? Of course. Intelligent corals that can see the future? Why not? Rivers of literal blood? Giant Guinea pigs that can be ridden into battle? Armor made from the exoskeletons of dead beetles? Execution where criminals are dangled upside down in a pit of flesh-eating millipedes? A tailor shop where giant spiders spin silken clothes directly onto your body? A magical unicycle that flies through the sky? You can do ANYTHING and there's nothing to stop you.
    Xitra_Blud, Chilari and Heliotrope like this.
  6. AElisabet

    AElisabet Scribe

    I think fantasy, at its heart, is about the tension between our reality and the ... other. Maybe that other is Elves, maybe it is ice zombies and dragons, maybe it is a hostile forest, or a school of magic the MC is suddenly thrust into, or the fairy girl someone married who just can't adjust fully to this world.

    But I think fantasy, at its heart, is about that tension. How can we mortals coexist with the immortal, the numinous, the otherworldly and - often - more powerful? What happens when our relationship with the fairy/elven/magical/etc world is knocked out off balance?

    These questions aren't limited to answers from medieval European tropes.
  7. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    No, fantasy doesn't have to be European based, although that type of fantasy sells like hotcakes on Amazon. It's the majority of fantasy we read, the majority of fantasy that makes it on the best-seller lists. GOT, LOTR, WOT, etc all of those are European based fantasy. So dismissing its influence and importance on the genre just to be different is a mistake imo.

    (@Devor: Steampunk is technically categorized under fantasy even though it has sci-fi elements. Weird, yes. :D)
  8. I'm not dismissing its influence and importance, I just don't like it personally. And it's not all there is to fantasy.
  9. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    Hmmmm, interesting question...

    fantasy, for me, can bend the rules of time and space. I have read and enjoyed high fantasy like LOTR and GOT but it is not my favorite (I have not read any other high or epic fantasy, I know, excommunicate me). I just don't care overly much for elves and dwarves and wizards and medieval settings... I prefer urban fantasy, time travel, magical realism or swash bucklers with a hint of magic. I like witch craft, curses, or anything with a real authentic historical connection. Like Neil Gaimans American Gods, or his new one The Ocean at the End of The Lane. I loved Gabriel Garcia Marquez Love in The Time of Cholera, Joanne Harris Chocolat, Lev Grossman The Magicians, or F.Scott Fitzgerald The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or Miss. Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children.p or Johnathon Strange and Mr. Norrell

    For movies I loved Big Fish, The Pirates of the Caribbean...

    I almost never have traditional epic fantasy as my first choice.

    As a kid I loved Narnia, but also The Indian in the Cupboard, A Wrinkle in Time, The Root Cellar by Janet Lunn and Shadow in Hawthorne Bay buy the same author.
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2016
  10. Another_Magician

    Another_Magician Acolyte

    I like this thought. The conception of reality in a different world. It just seems so easy, within the scope, to pull that narrative.
  11. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Of course that's not all there is to fantasy. There's room for plenty of adventure in the genre. But some of your comments lately come down on European based fantasy rather harshly and totally misses the point: European based fantasy is much loved by readers and has classic tales derived from it. I don't like GOT either but look at its popularity. Readers don't seem to care about the same rehashed Euro-centered world so long as the story is good. I also love Steampunk and have read some really interesting fantasy set in other worlds (one island short story centered on a shark king comes to mind). But fantasy can be anything and it does no good to say some of it is better than anything else.
  12. La Volpe

    La Volpe Sage

    I've always felt that fantasy needs some kind of magic (or unexplained phenomenon). You might note that both sci-fi and horror share this element (at least to an extent). I think there is a lot of bleeding between these three genres, but each has a different emphasis.

    Fantasy, to me, has the emphasis on magic (i.e. power via natural or divine means) while sci-fi has emphasis on technology (i.e. power via man-made means). Horror is a shift in atmosphere. And it can go either (or neither) way on the fantasy/sci-fi spectrum.

    This is a slightly odd stance, considering that you use European-inspired dragons (which have been used in fantasy stories since the beginning of fantasy).

    And a lot of those European tropes are common to stories in other cultures as well. Swords were/are pretty big in east-Asia. Most cultures have stories of wisened old people (usually with a beard). I'll give you elves and dwarves (at least the D&D types).

    I think a lot of the use of these supposedly overused fantasy elements (i.e. elves, magic sword etc.) keep popping up because people like them. And some things, like taverns and lanterns are easy ways to create the atmosphere of the medieval ages without giving a brief history of the world. You can rather spend that time focusing on the things that are different.

    By making everything from scratch, you have a HUGE amount of stuff that you have to convey to the reader, with no common ground to start from. It's not impossible to do, but sometimes it's just more efficient to start off with a base that the readers know, and that they are comfortable in. And then you focus on the things that are different, and you're able to show it more clearly, because you have something known to compare it to.
  13. Peat

    Peat Sage

    Fantasy is me and a pair of Swedish twins that need digging out of some nutella... wait, crap, wrong forum.


    Okay, starting again ;)

    Fantasy Literature, at its broadest, is any tale invoking the supernatural that has not been siphoned off into another genre.

    Fantasy Literature is more commonly accepted as heavily supernatural tales set in a fictionalised past but there is no reason for us to accept that definition other than possibly our desire to sell books.

    That said; Urban Fantasy and Science Fantasy are both things. Guy Gavriel Kay and KJ Parker have well respected relationships with the genre despite barely touching on the supernatural. Some of the Discworld books have next to zero supernatural too. You don't have to look too far to see people merrily smashing away at the "standard fantasy" template.

    One of these days I'm going to ask people to list the things they think go into a stereotypical fantasy, then compare them to a list of the biggest in the field.

    Because - knights? I don't think there's any in The Wheel of Time, the First Law, the Fionvar Tapestry, the Deverry Chronicles, Daughter of the Empire, or the Drenai Chronicles to pick a few important ones off of my shelves quickly. The Lord of the Rings *barely* mentions them; there's the Swan Knights of Dol Amroth and that's it. Codex Alera and the Riftwar mentions knights, but not really in a context that most of us mean knights in; the noble warrior.

    Mages Guilds? Depends if we want to be pedantic and want the exact words, or whether we'll accept any magic using organisation.

    A lot of the cliches of fantasy are not, imo, as spread as people believe.
  14. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

    If it requires you to imagine a world that is not your own, it's fantasy in my book.

    Medievalish world? Classic Fantasy
    Set in a fictional city? Urban Fantasy
    Following a fictional army? Military fantasy
    Set after the apocalypse? Post-apocalyptic fantasy
    Set in space? Sci-fi fantasy
  15. Peat

    Peat Sage

    Would you say the Dresden Files are not fantasy then? Butcher's Chicago is very much ours with a few twists. Or the many alt-history fantasies, what about them?
  16. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

    Never read the Dresden files. I believe these books have many supernatural elements right? In that case it's fantasy in my book. As long as the story is not set in our world, but either a completely or slightly alternate world, I consider it fantasy.
  17. Peat

    Peat Sage

    Splitting hairs perhaps, but for me, adding supernatural elements to our world doesn't stop it being our world.

    Still, that's just my definition, and yours makes sense too. Each to their own :)
    Ban likes this.
  18. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    I don't think anyone is dismissing the influence of European history on the fantasy genre, just saying it doesn't have to be the default setting. There are hundreds of cultures we can draw from, and yes, the cultures we are more familiar with from our own history lessons at school are likely to have a bigger influence than those which are less familiar. The problem as I see it is that beginning writers see this as the only option, because all the big name fantasy is based on medieval European cultures - which creates a self-perpetuating cycle if that's all that's ever written. Personally I'm interested in seeing what authors can do with settings, how inventive they can be about forms of government or magical systems or cultural hierarchies and thereby make fantasy places fantastical. A reliance on medieval Europe as a source of inspiration for setting isn't going to produce that. Saying something new requires being different - but being different isn't just for the sake of it.
  19. SaltyDog

    SaltyDog Sage

    I feel Fantasy as a genre is very loose, so really it's whatever each author thinks up and brings to the dinner table. For me, its medieval. Lol that's the book type I'm writing now, a fantasy medieval setting. But it doesn't include knights, dragons or other typical stereotypes of that word, medieval. I think the closest thing I have to a medieval setting are swords and castles. No chivalry stuff, which I cant stand.
    I see Fantasy as WOT, or LOTR, and books involving technology, say like space travel or other advanced technologys but still including elves dwarfs or dragons as a more syfy genre, if that makes any sense. (I don't mean to offend anybody, just a poor man's opinion)
    But its what ever the author wants, I just stick more closely to the stereotypes of the genre, or at least the stereotypes of WOT or LOTR. I don't think I'll ever try to get space travel, it's just to big for me, lol but who knows? The right inspiration and I'll start a novel with space.

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