An author friend recently commented that some of his colleagues and friends show some scorn to his writing because “they don’t read fantasy”. This discussion ended up on the Heroic Fantasy Facebook group and soon a discussion of the genre ensued. Whilst people not enjoying fantasy is entirely their choice it struck me fantasy is everywhere. Of course people have different views and likes and dislikes, and this is what makes the world such an interesting place but think about it for a moment and you will see what I mean.
Wikipedia defines fantasy as “Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic and magical creatures are common. Fantasy is generally distinguished from the genres of science fiction and horror by the expectation that it steers clear of scientific and macabre themes, respectively, though there is a great deal of overlap between the three, all of which are subgenres of speculative fiction.
In popular culture, the fantasy genre is predominantly of the medievalist form, especially since the worldwide success of The Lord of the Rings and related books by J. R. R. Tolkien. In its broadest sense, however, fantasy comprises works by many writers, artists, filmmakers, and musicians, from ancient myths and legends to many recent works embraced by a wide audience today.”
And again “The identifying traits of fantasy are the inclusion of fantastic elements in a self-coherent (internally consistent) setting, where inspiration from mythology and folklore remains a consistent theme. Within such a structure, any location of the fantastical element is possible: it may be hidden in, or leak into the apparently real world setting, it may draw the characters into a world with such elements, or it may occur entirely in a fantasy world setting, where such elements are part of the world. Essentially, fantasy follows rules of its own making, allowing magic and other fantastic devices to be used and still be internally cohesive.”
Here’s an example – Father Christmas otherwise known as Santa Claus – An immortal, apparently omniscient being who can travel the world in one night on his benevolent journey to bring presents. Now we tell our kids about this marvellous fellow, marketing and images are everywhere at this time of year and there is a lot of mythology about him. Yet the red robed, jolly old man with the flying sleigh is a relatively recent invention based on much older myth. Of a figure personifying Christmas and winter – Nowell (Noel), Lord Christmas and later, in Britain at least, ‘Father Christmas’. He was associated with adult worship, encouraging people to feast and drink, making merry at the birth of Christ. He was often seen as dressed from a bygone era but essentially was supernatural or anthropomorphic personification of the festival. Surely this has an element of fantasy.
Here we have a supernatural being and his magical companions (elves, flying reindeer etc.) so he fulfils at least some of the criteria. He also appears in a lot of fiction – CS Lewis and Tolkien used him in literature, plus of course many more recent writings.
Father Christmas and Santa Claus are synonymous with one another but Santa Claus was St Nicholas, and our modern view comes down from a Dutch story of a saint intertwined with myths of Odin and winter deities. St Nicholas himself was a 4th Century Greek Christian Bishop who was well-known for his gifts to the poor.
So what is my point here? The whole myth of Santa and much of Christmas – such as Yule (a pagan festival) has a lot of the elements of fantasy.
Not just this particular myth – fairies, elves, dwarves, orcs, heroes, gods, superheroes and fairytales are everywhere. Look at the recent movies – The Hobbit (Fantasy), Thor- the Dark World (fantasy/superhero), even Man of Steel – the latest Superman film has elements of it. After all the idea of a hero endowed with some form of superpower or the reluctant hero (such as Bilbo Baggins) are central to our culture. The Harry Potter films are the highest grossing films in cinematic history. Adventure films have an element of this too – think of Indiana Jones – the good guy vs bad guy element with semi fantastic elements (Ark of the Covenent, Holy Grail, an almost supernatural luck). This of course is more subtle than the more obvious sword and sorcery type but seems to me to at least partially fit the criteria. Paranormal romance and fiction is increasingly popular, as is urban fantasy. Then we have Science Fiction – which often contains elements of fantasy – think of Star Wars – aliens, jedi (wizards), the dark lord (Emperor Palpatine/Darth Vader). Even Star Trek, and Dr Who – still popular after 50 years or so with heroic and/or other worldly persons fighting monsters, using strange powers or weapons and generally saving the world/damsel in distress if your name is Captain Kirk, and often adding in a subtle moral tale into the bargain.
Take Britain – we have Robin Hood (who may or may not have existed) who stands up against a wicked king and his sheriff to fight on behalf of the poor. Again a personification of the fight of ‘good vs evil’, we have King Arthur and his magic sword, Excalibur. Arthur is entrenched firmly in British culture as is St George and his Dragon. Sounds like fantasy and folklore to me….
And so the list goes on. One only has to look at the popularity of the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, even Mr Shakespeare wrote fantasy – namely A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest. Fantasy, myth and folklore tale have been told since first people sat around a fire, perhaps trying to explain the world and the many incredible events therein, and perhaps it was just a way to make things a little more exciting. Homer’s Odyssey, Norse Mythology and even Indian and Japanese myths and influences are there, and as popular as ever.