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Fantasy Fantasy Fridays world building

Mixing Reality with Fiction

I love fantasy. I love reading fantasy and writing fantasy, for it is such a wondrous genre. My imagination can roam and romp through imaginary lands, sometimes for weeks after I’ve read a great book.

And yet I still want a fantasy tale to have some connection to reality. The protagonist doesn’t need to be from “here” like the leper Thomas Covenant in Stephen R. Donaldson’s stories, but I still need some reality to help me cross the span of imagination to that fantasy land.

Here are three areas where I like to see our reality mix into a fantasy realm:

Anthropomorphism– This term is often used when describing the tendency to give the human attributes to Deity, but I think it can also be applied to fantastic creatures. Is the writer humanizing something alien so that we, as readers, can relate. If your main characters are mice, they had better be rodents with human characteristics like our emotions, our speech patterns, our societal structures. If your characters are elves, dwarfs, or dragons and you want me to relate to them, then show them to be human-like in some way.

I know some villains are distant and their alien ways are vital to the story, but then you can’t bring the reader in close. Tolkien understood this. We never get “into the head” of Smaug or  Sauron because they are too different, but we do get close to Boromir and sense his fatal flaw of envy when he tries to take the Ring for himself and his country.

Flora and Fauna– An alien landscape should have some link to our world in how its plants and animals look and act. Frankly, it is that connection that helps to make the truly fantastic stand out, be it the magical forests in Tolien’s the Lord of Rings or the Ranyhyn steeds in the Thomas Covenant books.

It is because their land is similar to ours, that the hobbits are awed by Ents just as we are. If every tree in Middle Earth walked or grabbed people, it wouldn’t be as startling without overwhelming the story. Because the living trees are unusual in Middle Earth, it is a wonder that doesn’t take over the whole tale.

In Donaldson’s series, the Ranyhyn horses are wondrous because of how they are similar to ours and yet so far beyond any earthly equines.  Their stamina is far beyond any normal horse but we can accept their power because it first awes the protagonists and then is accepted by them too.

Geography– This is an area where I think many writers stumble. I have seen too many lands where the terrain drastically changes without any good explanation or any connection to our world.  In reality, things like oceans and mountain ranges will alter weather patterns and temperatures. I think a writer should be aware of the basics of physical geography or face the danger of creating an unbelievable land.

Tolkien made Mordor different, but he was wise enough to separate it from the rest of Middle Earth by mountain ranges and to show that it was the exception to the land’s reality.  Outside of Mordor, the land follows the same rules as ours. You don’t encounter deserts abutting rain forests or balmy mountains towering over snowy lowlands.

Reality highlights fantasy. I feel that it is the reality, well-applied, that helps to make the imaginary creatures and locations stand out that much more. It is the mundane in a fantasy world that adds awe to the wondrous places.

Interest in how I’ve mixed reality with fiction? Learn more about my first two  published novels: Road of Leaves and Fallen King

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Fantasy Fantasy Fridays Magic

The Cost of Magic

In most fantasy tales, magic plays an integral part.  Magic can be wondrous or frightening. Characters use magic to defend the right and to ravage the countryside. Often, magic becomes one of the characters in the story. In Road of Leaves, the shifting Road seems to develop its own personality and has an integral role at the tale’s climax. In Lord of the Rings, the rings, especially the One, have something of a will of their own.

Many of us love fantasy stories, because a good tale will transport us into a new, wondrous, and dangerous land. Stories about magic feed our imagination and remind of us of our childhood dreams. But, it should be costly for someone to acquire any magical powers.

What must you SACRIFICE to gain magic?

It would be boring if magic was easy to learn and unlimited in its power.  I agree with Author David Farland on this: magic must cost the person something.  In his Runelords books, magic is acquired by “borrowing” the powers from dozens or hundreds of other people. The lords sometimes took the powers of others with force, but they dared not kill them- the person needed to survive or the lord would lose that newly-gained enhancement.

In my CIRIAN WAR SAGA novels, the characters have to submit to supernatural forces to gain power. The heroes are empowered by their prayer devotion to El, while the villains find magical powers through demon possession and human sacrifice. Neither way to power is cheap or easy.

In my WAYS OF CAMELOT (WoC) novels, the characters must study for decades to learn how to recognize and use magical elements. They sacrifice their youth, many of them never getting the chance to marry or have a family.

In the WoC novels, elements are rendered from magical plants, insects, and animals. It takes skill and time to be a magician, but more importantly it requires crushing magical things into powders. Something or someone dies to release the power needed to craft an enchantment. Then the darker truth comes out: some magicians are killing magical people to get their properties too.

What LIMITS magic?

If magic has no limits, then a magician becomes a god-like. How can anyone oppose him? I found some super hero tales boring for just that reason. The “hero” wasn’t anyone I could relate to because he had no flaws or restrictions on his power.

In a good fantasy, the magic has parameters. Either there are some things that magic cannot do or the magician is limited. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo struggles with his sword, trying to master its magic. He also contends with the ring, which often is working against him. If either had provided him unlimited powers without conditions, then the story would have failed.

In the WAYS OF CAMELOT novels, I purposely don’t use the terms “spell” or “casting” because the magic is something that is crafted, using a combination of magical elements, mundane elements, and usually some spit that attunes the enchantment to the magician. It takes time, although some enchantments can be prepared in advance. In this world, you can’t just shout out a phrase or think a thought. There is work involved in creating magic. Real, physical labor.

In the Cirian War Saga novels, the powers of El are gained through a life of devotion. It requires the discipline of prayer, hence the Attuls are known as Prayer Warriors. Should they falter in their faith, then El’s power will weaken in their life.

For the villains, they need a steady supply of victims to sacrifice to create their blood magic. They also need the cooperation of the demon within.

What are the ETHICS of magic?

Another aspect of magic is the ethics involved.  Is magic good, bad, or amoral? In most fantasy stories, magic is used by both sides.  So what makes magic either good or evil? Magic’s goodness or evilness can be determined by the practitioner, by how it is used, or by its inherent nature.

For my WoC novels, the issue of ethics became more pressing because the stories are set in King Arthur’s times and include Christian characters. For a Christian, there are Biblical injunctions against the practice of witchcraft and sorcery, which is why I differentiate between those “dark arts” and the natural magic in the Ways of Camelot novels. I also have the magicians craft enchantments, much like a smith or carpenter or weaver. It is work that one learns to master like any other profession; you just happen to be working with magical elements.

So what is the COST of magic?

Magic, because it overrules natural law, is a dangerous thing. So magic should also be hard to learn and difficult to practice. The answer differs by the story, but there should be a significant cost of some type.  Magic is powerful, so it should never be an easy or simple thing to do.

 

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