Saturday, 22 November 2014

Fantasy Appeal, the Modern Age and Links to Mythology. Or, Why I Love Fantasy :)

I wrote about choosing a genre in my Writing a Book Tips and clearly fantasy is one of these, but what is the appeal?

Fantasy is nothing new and in Saxon/Viking times Beowulf was clearly a favourite tale. But, what was Grendel? Was he a troll and was this the start of fantasy writing? But is this the start of fantasy, sitting around log fires in a long-halls, telling tales in the hush of the night? Probably not. For years dragons have been the basis of many myths and legends. Some suggest that dinosaur bones may have prompted these beliefs. Dragons certainly seem to go back centuries in both China and India.

Just like in Beowulf, if there are monsters, then there will be heroes; no doubt riding to the rescue of some damsel in distress. Is folklore then the start of fantasy? Tolkien certainly relied on folklore to write the Lord of the Rings. Looking at Scandinavian folklore Dwarves, Elves and Trolls certainly existed in these tales and there are many more strange creatures such as a Mare, Pesta (grim reaper type creature) and a Nokken (water creature).

Every country seems to have its own folklore and lists of fantasy-type creatures. These creatures were probably created to explain or the many strange goings on the world; the bumps and thumps in the night. It may also be useful to explain away theft, disease and much more. And where there is folklore no doubt there are tales to go with these strange and beguiling creatures, otherwise why would they exist? People interacting with Sprites, Goblins, Fairies, Demons and the like.

If you look up a list of folklore creatures you will be surprised by just how many these are and how widespread these tales are. There are literally thousands of these tales spreading to all corners of the globe. So you  see, fantasy is an ancient and widespread phenomenon. It is in our genes- so to speak.

So how novel (pardon the pun) is modern day fantasy and who started it? I suppose it was the first to print across the wider community and Edgar Rice Burroughs certainly wrote early books, more on Sci Fi than fantasy but the sword and sandals were certainly present with tales of heroics, demonic creatures and women in distress. Tolkien undoubtedly made fantasy popular and you could argue that with all this folklore abounding it was only a matter of time. Perhaps what Tolkien did was make it respectable. However, for mass appeal the Greeks and Homer was probably the very first mass-market writer of fantasy. The Odyssey and the Iliad for example has lots of fantasy type creatures with its tales of Gods, Cyclops, Harpies, Sirens, Nymphs and any more creatures. It even has its own Dark Lord in Hades, the King of the underworld. .

One issue behind fantasy is that science and travel have made mythology less believable and yet deep-rooted within many of us is the desire to hear tales from the darkness. Tell anyone that you read fantasy and there is less kudos than reading thrillers, historical fiction etc. And yet historical fiction about Rome, Egypt and Ancient Britain is just fantasy set many centuries ago, for the people lived their lives believing in gods, the underworld and a whole plethora of mythical beasts. If you write about historical fiction, your characters must believe in the world around them. He/she probably wouldn't cross a river without laying out a charm or leaving an offering to appease the river sprites.

To my mind -- fantasy is king. I love these tales of good versus evil. If you are writing then fantasy is a great arena to play out your creation, For a great list of fantasy creatures, check out Harry Potter and just see how many of these creatures link to ancient mythology. There are some great new additions, but that is the beauty of fantasy - like a Mandrake -- it just keeps on growing.

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