Elements of Fantasy: Part 2

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As promised, today I will be answering the second half of the question I started answering yesterday: What elements do you see in other genres that you wish you saw more in fantasy books/movies?

Everyday Conflicts

Most fantasy-fiction (and most spec-fiction, for that matter) tend to deal with WORLD ENDING EPICAL BATTLES GALORE AGAINST THE ULTIMATE EVIL VILLAIN OF VILLAINOUS VILLAINS! Which is awesome. I love a well-written Good vs Evil story. I have to, because I wrote that kind of story myself in both Yorien’s Hand and the upcoming Minstrel’s Call.

Gandalf: What did you hear?
Samwise: N-nothing important… that is, I heard a good deal about a ring, and a Dark Lord, and something about the end of the world…

But sometimes it would be nice to see these fantasy heroes on a more everyday scale. It doesn’t always have to be an ordinary hero going up against a Dark Lord bent on ruling the world. Sometimes, it can be an ordinary hero going up against an ordinary conflict, and that can be fantastical, too. Second Son and King’s Warrior lean more towards that scale.

This is one of the reasons I love H.L. Burke’s books so much, because her conflicts tend to be on a more everyday scale. They are serious, but not always world-threatening.

Mystery

One of the reasons I love the Dresden Files or the show Grimm, is because we get more of this everyday sort of conflict. (Not to mention that Grimm combines two of my favorite kinds of stories: Fantasy + Crime Show). I’d love to see some detective work and sleuthing skills used more in the fantasy-verse. This is one of the reasons I loved The Beast of Talesend, as well, because at its core, it was a story about a private detective in a somewhat ordinary/modern day world — that had the capacity for magic and other fantastical elements.

Speaking of world-building…

Deeper Worlds

I know that this may seem a bit contradictory to what I said yesterday when I mentioned world-building. However, because fantasy stories take place in worlds that are completely new, sometimes we only get to scratch the very surface of them. Also, because they tend to draw from the medieval era of our own history, they tend to have political systems we are familiar with but don’t really understand, and the politics of how the kingdoms work is often glossed over. We don’t really get to delve deeply into these worlds.

This is one of the reasons I love the Chronicles of Narnia — it is one of the few fantasy worlds that we get to see from Creation to Armageddon.

Also, though I did not enjoy the story very much, showing this minutiae of the inner workings of the world is something Brandon Sanderson does fairly well in the Mistborn trilogy.

Normal People

Have you ever noticed that fantasy is replete with only two classes? There are the peasants, and the royalty. There aren’t a lot of “middle class” folk who show up in fantasy. You are either following a Prince or Princess, or you’re following a peasant (usually an orphaned peasant) who has some sort of prophecy laid upon him or her and is destined to save the world! I would love to see more ordinary people ending up on adventures… which is one of the reasons I love The Last Motley by DJ Edwardson, because Roderick is as ordinary as they come… and his quest ensues because of his character, and not because of any kind of destiny. He actually CHOOSES to go on the quest, because he feels it’s the right thing to do… because he really doesn’t have to, and I love that about it (full review coming soon, I promise! I have to finish the book first, though!)

Speaking of normal people…

A Variety of Jobs

I know blacksmiths are cool. But there were so many other professions and trades in the medieval era. I’d love to see more fantasy stories about weavers or tailors or school teachers or candle-makers or shepherds or famers or really anything other than blacksmiths!

Speaking of school teachers… I’d love to see more fantasy stories include schools… but not schools for magic (those are easy enough to find). But ordinary schools like the ones in Anne of Green Gables, or boarding schools like the one in Ella Enchanted or A Little Princess are great settings for good stories… and could incorporate a lot of the elements I mentioned above.

Interestingly enough, now that I look over this list, the things I’d like to see most incorporated into Fantasy stories kind of all share a similar theme: ordinary-ness. I love the fantastical, the magical, and the imagination that resides in the fantasy genre. But, as one of my commenters said yesterday, it can’t just be window-dressing. It has to be part of the story, it has to invoke a sense of wonder and enhance the story in some way. Which is probably why stories like the ones I mentioned above all appeal to me so much. They do an excellent job of blending the fantastical with the everyday, and they do more than simply entertain — they teach me something about life, or people, or myself.

What about you, dear Reader? What are some things you’d like to see incorporated more often into the fantasy genre?

~ jenelle

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.

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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

Lunar Chronicles

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Hey, hey! It’s the first review of Fantasy Month! So, I’ve been meaning to do a series review of the Lunar Chronicles since I devoured them a few months ago… and what better time than in the midst of Fantasy Month?

After hearing people rave about this series for years, and then seeing several of the characters pop up multiple times in the Silmarillion Awards two years in a row, I knew I had to read them. I had actually managed to avoid reading any spoilers about the series!

In that vein, I will attempt to do this without spoilers…

This series is a magically epic blend of fairy-tale retellings, fantasy, and science fiction, with action, adventure, humor, and a bit of romance.

Cinder

Each of these books has the retelling of a different fairy tale at its core. Cinder is, not surprisingly, a retelling of Cinderella. Linh-Cinder lives in New Beijing and is well-known as the best mechanic in the city. Unfortunately, she is also part cyborg (though she is human, she was in an accident when she was young and has a cybernetic hand and foot and eye) and that also makes her somewhat of an outcast. Cyborgs are not considered to be people or have rights to their own lives.

Her step-mother is disgusted by the very idea of a cyborg in her home, and would throw Cinder out on the street in a heartbeat… if her mechanical genius weren’t the only thing bringing money into their home.

But Cinder’s life changes when Prince Kai visits her booth and asks her to fix his android.

Meanwhile, Levana, the Queen of Luna (the moon colony) has set her sights on marrying Prince Kai and becoming Empress, as well as Queen. The people of New Beijing specifically, and Earth in general, are understandably uneasy about the idea of this alliance between Queen Levana and their own Prince Kai, mostly because Lunars have a magical ability (called “glamor”) which allows them to distort other people’s brain chemistry. In short, they can make you see things that aren’t there, and even take control of your body and wield you like a puppet.

I don’t want to give away too much more about the story, but suffice to say, that this is by far the most clever retelling of Cinderella I have ever read. All of the elements are there, but they are woven so seamlessly into the greater overarching story that you almost don’t notice the Cinderella story that is playing out on the pages.

Cinder is an eminently likable character. She is neither plagued by the insipid personality nor the paralyzing self-loathing that has been a trend in popular YA literature in more recent years. While she has had a rough life and has been treated unfairly and has some doubts and self-consciousness about herself… these things are overshadowed by her skill as a mechanic, her practical nature, her ability to plan things out… but be impetuous at times, and her steady-as-a-rock moral compass. Even when you want to shout at her to RUN AWAY!!!! you can’t help but admire her for choosing the path that is best for the ones she loves, even if it will be detrimental to herself. I also love her friendship with Iko (an android with a faulty personality chip that makes her more human in her interactions… she reminded me of a female sort of Data from Star Trek: TNG) and how she treats everyone, from androids to princes, with the same respect, kindness, and decency.

Scarlet

I’m gonna be honest right now. Scarlet was my least favorite of the books. This one’s core is Little Red Riding Hood, which is not my favorite fairy tale (I don’t have anything against it… I just wouldn’t list it among my favorites). The story follows Scarlet Benoit, who lives with her grandmother – an ex-military pilot – who has suddenly gone missing. (I don’t know why, but the whole “grandmother” part of the original story kind of went over my head for a while as I was reading the story).

Scarlet is worried about her grandma, who has gone inexplicably missing. The police have been no help at all, as her grandma is known for being a little batty…. But then Scarlet meets a mysterious young fighter who calls himself “Wolf,” who seems to have knowledge of who kidnapped her grandmother and where they might be keeping her. Together, they set out to find her.

There is a much stronger romantic element in this story, which I wasn’t a huge fan of.

To be honest, my biggest complaints about this book probably stem from the fact that I didn’t want to get to know new characters… and I was far more interested in reading what was going to happen to Cinder next, and I felt a little gypped that Cinder ended on a bit of a cliff-hanger, and then this story opened up with all-new characters I was supposed to care about. Also, while Scarlet (the character) eventually grew on me later in the series, I didn’t really feel any connection with her or Wolf in this book.

Meanwhile, back in New Beijing, Cinder is coming to terms with all the repercussions of thing she learned and did in the first book, and ends up teamed up with a man named Carswell Thorne… who I absolutely HATED on sight.

However….

Cress

Crescent Moon, Cress for short, is a young Lunar Shell (shells are people born on Luna without any magical abilities, and are also completely immune to Lunar manipulation) who has spent most of her life in a satellite orbiting in space. She is a computer genius and extremely capable hacker, and has been used by the Lunar Government to spy on Earth.

However, Cress has seen the reality of her prison and dreams of journeying to Earth and walking in its forests. She sees it as the Promised Land, and so has begun to work quietly and subversively against her Lunar masters.

Cress is my FAVORITE of the series, both her book and her character. Her story is that of Rapunzel locked away in the tower – and when we meet her, she even has extremely long hair – dreaming of a prince who will come rescue her. Socially awkward, epically hopeful, and adorable in every way possible, Cress is a character I could see myself being best friends with.

And in this story, Carswell Thorne completely stole my heart. Because I got to see him through Cress’ eyes. And what’s more important… he gets to see himself through Cress’ eyes… and he realizes that he kind of wants to be the hero she thinks he is.

Winter

The final book in the quadrilogy, Winter tells the story of fair Snow White… er… Winter… who is despised by her cruel stepmother (who is Queen Levana of Luna). Winter stopped using her Lunar ability years ago, after using it in a way she meant as kindness… only to discover months later that what she had been doing had been the ultimate cruelty. Unfortunately, Lunars who do not use their powers suffer the side-effect of going mad… Winter often sees things that do not exist… nightmares coming to life before her eyes.

Winter is the most completely GOOD character in the story. In spite of being crazy, Winter is the epitome of selflessness. And just because she’s mad, doesn’t mean she isn’t clever… she is extremely clever. That doesn’t mean she always makes the best decisions, but she is not naive or stupid. She also has a core of strength like Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton… which is impressive.

Winter was probably tied for second favorite book, because I loved Winter herself so much, and because the stakes were high, the tension was epic, and the conclusion…. !!!! Well, you’ll just have to read it for yourself.

Fairest

After I read the first four books, I went back and read Fairest. Technically a prequel to the entire series (and numbered as “Lunar Chronicles 3.5″), Fairest tells Levana’s story. It was a very unique read. A lot of times, when I read a book or see a movie from the villain’s perspective, or about their back-story, I feel like I come away with a sense that the author was trying to apologize for them… or maybe to them, for making them the villain. These stories often deteriorate into a sob-story about how it’s not the villain’s fault that they are this way, and if someone had just been nicer to them, then they wouldn’t have attempted to wipe out the inhabitants of Earth, or some such nonsense that blames their evil actions on something other than themselves and their own bad choices or sinful nature.

Fairest does not do that.

It was a very creepy, sinister, and somewhat chilling story to read. Because, while there were definitely parts to the story where I felt bad for Levana, or wanted to comfort her, or even felt like maybe I could understand her a bit… I never felt like the story was trying to justify any of her actions. It didn’t absolve her in any way for being cruel and selfish. The only place where it hints at that is when it talks about how Lunar children are not supposed to be subjected to “glamours” because it alters their brain chemistry in negative ways… and we learn that Levana’s older sister ignored this rule every chance she got. However, even that implication is so subtle that it never comes across as if the author was saying that it was the cause of all Levana’s choices. That it influenced her ability to have anything resembling empathy for another person… possibly. That it absolved her of any of her actions? Definitely not!

Even though I knew where the story came in the chronology (and had already read how the series ended with Winter) Meyer did a phenomenal job building up the tension in this book. I was on the edge of my seat, terrified for the safety of everyone around Levana… even people I knew made it safely to the end of book 4! I thought that was an impressive feat of writing.

I would say this was my 3rd favorite, after Cress, and my Cinder/Winter tie for 2nd. (Yes, I cheat horribly when I list favorite anythings).

Stars Above

I loved this series so very much that I even grabbed a copy of the short stories that sort of wraps up the series… and I don’t generally like short stories very much.

This collection is adorable and does a good job adding to the series without adding too much or telling too much or being redundant. I enjoyed the glimpses into the back-stories of many of my favorite characters… and how they fleshed out stories that had been mentioned casually in the series itself. And the final story was everything I wanted from an epilogue.


And that concludes my series review. An epic series that jumped quickly up onto my list of favorites. I loved the cleverness, the way that the fairy-tale retellings were woven in so artfully, and yet how each story was new and different, in spite of (or perhaps because of) how these ancient stories made up their very heartbeat.

If you have not read the Lunar Chronicles, I highly recommend that you do!

Five Dragon Eggs

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Talk to me, dear Reader! Have you read the Lunar Chronicles? Did you like them? Which one was your favorite? Do you have a favorite/least favorite character? Let’s discuss!!!

~ jenelle

Sports in Fantasy

 

February Fantasy Month BannerWhat with the Winter Olympics starting today, I thought it would be fun to do a post about sports in fantasy.

But, Jenelle! Sports and Fantasy are completely different genres!

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You might think that… and at first I wasn’t sure this idea for a post would work very well, and then I realized something. What are sports other than a contest of physical prowess and skill? And there is no shortage of those in fantasy. In fact, if you found yourself suddenly transported into a fantasy novel, you might discover swiftly that being in shape is imperative to your survival!

In fantasy lands that borrow heavily from the medieval time period, there are plenty of jousting tournaments, a sport where two competitors suit up in bulky armor, climb up on horses, and race towards each other with long poles and try to impale one another, or, barring that, knock their opponent from his horse.

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The more I thought about jousting, the more I realized that this is not all that dissimilar from the concept of hockey, except that hockey doesn’t have horses, and you have 12 competitors all attempting similar tactics at the same time in a small space. But really, knocking each other over does seem to be one of the major identifiers of the sport.

Fantasy fiction often has tests of archery and marksmanship… which are often needed in the midst of battle or after a long trek through harsh elements and less than desirable weather conditions. The most famous occurrence of this would be Robin Hood, in which the story features an archery competition that the villain uses to lure Robin Hood to his doom.

people-2561105_640biathlon-274769_640

 

This is not unlike the biathlon, where competitors must affix toboggan runners to their feet and then sprint through the snow on them before reaching their appointed destination and test their marksmanship.

In many respects, figure skating is a lot like magic… or at least, I’ve always thought so! Especially the pairs figure skating!

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And if you ever did find yourself suddenly inside the pages of your favorite fantasy novel, you might discover that speed-skating and downhill slalom skiing events would have been excellent courses for building stamina as you run away from villains and dodge various obstacles as you race for your life through heavily wooded forests, fleeing various evil fantasy creatures and minions.

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So there you have it. Reading fantasy is just like watching the Olympics!

I do hope you caught the tongue-in-cheek humor above. The Winter Olympics is – in all seriousness – actually my favorite of the two Olympics, and I am very much looking forward to watching all the various alpine skiing events and the figure skating (which is my favorite). I also highly enjoy the bobsled and luge events. So I’m hoping that we can figure out a way to watch some of the events.

What are your favorite Winter Olympic Events, dear Reader? Do you prefer the Winter or Summer Olympics? Do you have a favorite Fantasy Sporting event?

~ jenelle