Elements of Fantasy: Part 1

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Today’s post is in answer to a question someone asked me a while back. They wanted to know what are some elements I see in the fantasy genre that I wish were more common in other genres, as well. And they also wanted to know if there was anything I wish I saw more in the fantasy genre.

I’ll answer the first half of that question today, and the rest of it tomorrow!

Elements I see in the Fantasy Genre that I wish were more prevalent in other genres:

Before I get started, I feel the need to add in a disclaimer: I read a LOT of fantasy. It’s the genre I prefer. However, I do and have read a lot of books in other genres, as well. Many of the books I love – regardless of genre – include these elements. Also, when I say “fantasy” I generally mean to include all of speculative fiction as well… so sci-fi, urban fantasy, superheroes, etc.

fantasy-2750995_640Imagination

Possibly the thing I love the most about fantasy is the sheer amount of expanded imagination that is both present in the writing and opened up within my own mind as I read. In fantasy, you have the potential to encounter almost anything. Talking animals, mythical beasts, enchanted weapons, realms in which the laws of science just don’t work the same way as they do in our world, time travel, magic… anything is possible in the realm of imagination, and rarely is it used anywhere as expansively as it is in the fantasy genre.

Well-Developed Characters

The characters in fantasy are by far the number one reason I read and prize this genre so highly. Set against the backdrop of impossible worlds and thrust into ridiculous scenarios, fantasy characters more often than not step boldly off the page and into my heart. Unlikely heroes, normal, everyday folk who get caught up in events so much bigger than them, fantasy characters inspire me to face my own trials with such bravery, to endure my own difficulties with quiet resolve. It’s not just the heroes, though, fantasy villains are nothing to be sneezed at – they are insidious, crafty, clever, and powerful, forces to be reckoned with. My heroes are often forced to rise far above and beyond what they thought themselves capable of in order to face down and defeat these villains.

World-Building

Fantasy books tear open portals that let us peek through windows of possibility and snatch glimpses of other worlds. Now, I suppose I can understand why things like historical fiction or biographies and non-fiction genres can’t really make use of this element to its fullest extent… and that’s their loss, really. *grin* But I’d love to see it utilized more often in other genres. The time and effort that spec fiction authors put into their worlds is simply astounding. Even if the story is set in our world… surely there are things about our world that inspire the imagination and could be expounded upon and given more attention.

aurora-borealis-2647474_640

Magic

I might lose some of you here. But hang in there for a moment, because I don’t mean what you might think I mean. Yes, I do love fantasy books where the author gives his or her characters magical abilities and lets that affect the plot in various ways. However, that’s not what I’m talking about. There’s a feeling of magic, of possibility, in fantasy. In our own world, we have that same possibility – but it often gets overlooked or taken for granted. Impossible things happen daily… and so often, we miss them, or we don’t notice them. But God is at work… every second of every day… if we’d just take the moment to notice. The magical nature of fantasy – whether it be through the use of special abilities, a portal to another world, or just the fantastical setting and story – can help us notice. It often points me to deeper truths of everyday things I take for granted. Take The Chronicles of Narnia, for example. The portal that opens between our world and Narnia take the Pevensie children straight into a realm where they get to experience the weight of the ultimate redemption story and even play a role in it – and I get to travel along with them and realize the depth and meaning of my own treachery, my own powerlessness to save myself, the awful, glorious price of my own redemption, in a whole new, powerful way.

Friendship

Friendship and loyalty are often major themes in fantasy books. At least, they seem to be present in most of the fantasy books I have read. I love reading about true friendship and seeing it modeled by my favorite characters. I also appreciate that there exists a genre in which not every single relationship has to turn into one of romance.

Happily Ever After

fantasy-2998779_640Fantasy stories – as a general rule – tend to end more happily than other genres. Books based in the “real” world seem to feel the need to remind us that things don’t always end happily, that the good and virtuous don’t always win, and that the villains aren’t always defeated. Which is true… this side of heaven. But, as I wrote about last year, I am already well-aware of that fact. The happily ever afters and good triumphing over evil endings of fantasy books serve to remind me that “this is not the end, there is so much more.” It reminds me that one day, God “will wipe away every tear.” And that the true ending of this story God is writing, is, for Christians, ultimately the most beautiful and happy one of all.

 

Your turn! What are your favorite elements of the fantasy genre? Any that you would like to see migrate into other genres? I’d love to hear from you!

Also, make sure you join me tomorrow, where I answer the second half of that question and talk about things I’ve seen in other genres that I’d like to see more frequently in fantasy!

~ jenelle

6 Comments

Allan James

Beautiful Post, Jenelle. Your closing paragraph reminds me of the Railway Children………”Good and Wonderful Things do happen…….and most of us live our lives in the hope of them”.

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DJ Edwardson

I second everything you say here, though I do think sometimes certain fantasy writers use the sheen and outward forms of fantasy in a way that betrays the imaginative, hopeful well which from which true fantasy must flow.

For instance, one can have magic in a story and it serves as merely a mechanistic purpose, something more akin to science than anything wondrous and enhancing. Or it might function simply as a plot device, or to add “special effects” or an element of danger.

In these cases, the author has wasted all the trouble he went to in creating this alternate world. His story would have been better served by writing a plain romance, or coming-of-age story or whatever it is he wanted to write about set in the present or a historical setting.

C.S. Lewis had rather harsh things to say about such writers and I’m with him. The fantasy elements you mentioned need to be more than just “window dressing”. They have to be an integral, organic part of the story in such a way that it makes no sense without them.

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jenelle

Totally agree! Which is why I was careful to indicate that the “magic” I wish I saw in more books outside the fantasy genre is more of a feel, a wonder and imagination, than the actual story-device of magic itself.

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Madeline J. Rose

Yes, I agree with all of these! Especially well-developed characters! I’ve noticed when I read other genres, the characters really just don’t stick out as much to me than when I read fantasy. Characters in fantasy grow and learn and become better than they were. You just don’t see that very much in other books.

And world-building too, of course. Just because it’s a contemporary book doesn’t mean you don’t have to develop your world! :)

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