What Constitutes Fantasy?

I’ve named this blog “Monsters and Magic” because I believe these two elements are a common component to the fantasy genre.  Too general?  Then add the idea that fantasy adventure also contains a temporal condition that does not include a contemporary setting and you’ve got what makes fantasy what it is. 

Are there fantasy stories that take place in a current time period?  Certainly.  But let us make the distinction this is more urban fantasy, a sub genre that seems to be gaining momentum.  I have no problem with it, but I feel the classification demands a clearer set of rules governing the specifics of fantasy adventure.  American Film Institute recently did a list of the Top Ten Fantasy Films of all time and the list included It’s a Wonderful Life and Back to the Future.  Incredible films for certain and there is the fantastical within these stories but this is the not the fantasy I write nor would they be classified as such by most of the writers within this genre currently working today. 

So let it be said Fantasy Adventure is what I mean; Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones are current examples.  The Forgotten Realms fantasy setting, Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer Fantasy, these are the foundations of the pure fantasy worlds which are populated by both the mundane, man with a sword, and the magical, giant with a club, wizard with a staff. 

I’ve always loved monsters, in any shape or form.  One of the first words I ever uttered was “mono” rather than “mom”, as this was my word for monsters, the only approximation my two year old mouth could speak to call out to the world what excited me like nothing else.  I loved monsters and still do. Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Wolfman, are all classic examples.  At its most basic level, this fascination with the macabre and all things horrific adds to the depth that good fantasy adventure can and does well. 

Within the science fiction genre, we discover this element of horror as well.  Think of Alien, The Terminator, two sci-fi films that develop the idea of a ravaging monster; the alien, the terminator, these unstoppable killing machines that can only be stopped by our hero’s great resolve.  Tolkien was smart enough to inject monsters into his fantasy world as well.  Trolls and orcs, goblins and the Balrog, an unstoppable killing machine from the depths of hell only the stalwart wizard Gandalf can confront.  Whereas one genre, science fiction, utilizes science and technology to battle their monsters, fantasy heroes must use the magic of a wizard or the strong arm of a knight to strike down their foes.  But make no mistake, these monsters are the enemy and for each genre to use their individual tropes to best effect, the heroes must function within the rules of their particular world. 

So that it is Science for the future ‘space man’, Magic for the fantasy wizard.  These specific tools allow our heroes to conquer their enemies but I believe the specific genre is a mere trapping.  A good story is a good story and my novels, while fantasy adventure in the strictest sense (along with strong elements of horror), could take place anywhere and at any time and work well. 

So if you have some monsters, demons, orcs, ogres, goblins, trolls, what have you, and magic, wizards casting spells, weapons imbued with powerful properties that science today says is impossible, all taking place in a fantasy world not of a contemporary nature, you’ve got the basic structure of the fantasy genre. 

In the future I will break down each component in greater detail and why they are important to distinguish this genre from others but this is the basic understanding of what makes fantasy the genre it is. 

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One Response to What Constitutes Fantasy?

  1. jmolinar says:

    I don’t know much about this genre. But reading your blog helps me to understand it and enjoy it more.

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