Fantasy Characters

I can hardly believe that we are in the final week of February! I hope you have all been enjoying this month-long celebration of various elements that can be found in my favorite genre, I have certainly enjoyed writing the posts and participating in the ensuing conversations!

If you would like to participate, there’s still plenty of time! The linky list will be open all the way to March 15th, so if you want to write a fantasy-related post and join the link up, you definitely can still do that! I am struggling with making the links appear on my site for some reason (they are visible if you click on the link-tool), so when the link-up is over, I will create a post with everyone’s links in them so that you can all see them more easily! More information on the link-up can be found by clicking HERE or by simply clicking on the February is Fantasy Month button over there on the sidebar.

If I had to pick a single reason to love fantasy, however, today’s topic would be it. The characters. Fantasy characters are something special, wouldn’t you agree? I’m not sure what it is about them, but there is a depth and a refinement that occurs in fantasy characters that can be hard to find in other genres. The best characters in any genre step off the page, they mirror ourselves, they shed light on our souls and reveal hidden strengths and give us courage to face our own circumstances with heads held high.

Fantasy boasts many different types of characters, and I cannot hope to touch on all of them, but I’m just going to address two main types…

The seemingly-inconsequential character who gets swept up in events too large for him or her. So much fantasy starts right there, and I love it. An ordinary human, dwarf, halfling, elf, what-have-you character is minding his own business when BAM! A wizard shows up during his morning pipe, or rolls into town and stays at your father’s inn, or you get picked to bear an honor or position you did not seek and many think you don’t deserve! This takes the ordinary character and demands that he or she become extraordinary, or they die and the story ends. I think this character speaks to the ordinary in all of us, the part of us that feels perhaps slightly overlooked or taken for granted. We love this character because he or she reminds us that we all have a purpose, a reason for existing. We may never take the ring to Mount Doom… but, as the Doctor says:

In 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important. ~ Doctor Who

Then there’s the person who does hold some sort of important position. Perhaps it’s a king, queen, prince, princess, heir to the throne, a trusted body-guard, someone who is by definition important in the eyes of the world. Maybe their kingdom is about to come under attack, and their decision will change the outcome of the approaching conflict. Perhaps they begin the story by running away from their responsibilities, and then must deal with the consequences of that choice. Maybe they are sent on a quest or they choose to take their destinies into their own hands rather than marry the person they are supposed to marry or accept the throne they are meant to rule from… these characters tend to be quite fun to read about, because they remind us that an enviable position of authority or prestige may not be all it’s cracked up to be. They still have problems to face and if you get past the crowns and tutors and palaces… they’re still just people underneath – with fears and doubts and worries of their own – and they actually resemble ourselves quite a bit.

Of course, then there are wizards tasked with protecting mankind or finding the one destined to defeat the ultimate villain. There are side characters and supporting characters and traitors and betrayers. But the point is, fantasy characters are consistently exceptional.

I have my own theories on why this is… something to do with the backdrop and setting being so fantastical that it frees the reader to stop worrying about how “realistic” everything is and just focus on the characters and how they deal with their various trials and tribulations. Tying this all back to yesterday’s post, I think that’s another reason why Mistborn fell flat for me. Sanderson spent so much time trying to explain the perfect magic system to the detriment of both plot and character development… which meant I never really got all that invested in what was going on with the characters – with the exception of Kelsier and possibly Breeze, all the characters are pretty one-dimensional and flat.

But whatever the reason, I would argue that strong characters are up there at the top of the list of reasons to read the fantasy genre. Characters like Aragorn, Boromir, Samwise, Haplo, Eugenides, Cimorene, Morwen, King Arthur, and all the rest… if I were to list all my favorites here, this post would get far too long!

What about you? I’d love to hear your theories on why fantasy characters are so compelling! I’d also love to just hear about your favorite fantasy characters in general, and why they’re your favorite!

~ jenelle

6 Comments

DJ Edwardson

My favorite character by a landslide is Samwise. I’m partial to the underdogs and everymen of fantasy, though I certainly enjoy the epic heroes as well.

As to why fantasy characters are so exceptional, I think it is partly what you said, because they inhabit a different world we’re not expecting them to play by the typical rules. They get to chart their own course so to speak and that makes them inherently more dynamic and compelling. Fantasy characters face dragons and magic and black knights and all sorts of things we will never have to face so it requires more active engagement of the imagination to read such stories and the payoff is characters that are larger than life and that are more memorable.

I also think that most fantasy worlds, as big and sprawling as they might be, usually have a more intimate feel. Yes there is the occasional big city, but for the most part they are rural places with vast, uncharted and unexplored regions. I can’t imagine Aragorn standing out much in a place like, say, New York, for example. There are just so many people and so much going on. But in Middle Earth he is a singular character, the lost king of Gondor whose decisions will affect the fate of nations.

By the way, kudos for the sheer amount of posts you put out this month. I suppose it’s easier writing about something you love. It’s been a a great series. I’ll be sad to see it go!

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jenelle

I love Samwise as well.

Thanks for your comments, that is exactly what I was trying to say!

I’m glad everyone has loved the series. I haven’t gotten any editing done! But I think it’s been worth it to spend some time being creative, hopefully it makes diving back into editing seem less overwhelming!

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madelinejrose

Yes! I love fantasy characters. They really do seem to be more developed than in any other genres I’ve read. When I read (or write) fantasy, it’s almost always the characters that draw me in.
I really enjoyed your fantasy posts this month! I’ll miss them. :)

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jenelle

:) I’m glad you’ve enjoyed them! If I can come up with more topics, I’ll definitely post about fantasy some more… it is kind of my specialty ;) just not every day. hehe.

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Abbey

Fantasy characters are fantastic! I think that, maybe, part of their appeal is that they are familiar: there tends to be a wisened mentor character, an inexperienced hero, a beautiful maiden, and a rogue-ish sidekick in many fantasy stories. That familiarity can be comforting, especially if the hero is facing something that equals something that is going on in the reader’s life.
I just posted an essay about Aragorn on my blog: http://agwerff.blogspot.com/2016/02/fantasy-february-essay-about-aragorn.html
I’m too tired to figure out how to link it on your other post at the moment, but maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.

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jenelle

Ooh! I loved your post! I’m trying to figure out how to get the linky tool to show the links when people sign up. It’s a very frustrating tool. I changed the details a bit to allow longer URLs, so you should be able to link it now. If I can’t figure out how to make the linky list display I will probably create a post with everyone’s links in it when the month is over!

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I love hearing from you, dear Reader!