What makes good fantasy fiction? Writers and readers alike have been asking that question for thousands of years. Play-goers watched the performance of a fantasy piece when they saw The Birds by Aristophanes in 400 BCE; or when they watched Bottom become half-man, half-donkey in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Whether you are reading Beowulf, Game of Thrones, or The Lord of the Rings, a great fantasy fiction story can immerse readers in worlds untethered from the world in which they live, a world bound by scientific and social laws unique to that particular fantasy realm.
As Poe is to Gothic and Shelley is to Horror, we look to Tolkien as our guide to demonstrate what makes an enthralling fantasy. First and foremost, a great fantasy story needs to have a great setting. Ernest Hemingway once said that if you could get the reader to accept the place, they would then accept anything that happened in that place. Tolkien gave us Middle Earth with all its dragons, orcs, wizards, and malevolent spirits that were all bound by specific laws and moors unique to that place. Once the reader accepted the Shire with its furry-footed Hobbits, what couldn’t they accept?
The fantasy world is not the modern world in disguise. The modern world may exist side by side with the fantasy world as it does in the Harry Potter series. It may even bleed over into it; however, the fantasy world is unique itself. The beautiful thing about a fantasy world is that through it, a reader may explore all kinds of contemporary themes like love, loss, death, prejudice and political corruption through a new lens.
At TDS, we look for the kind of fantasy that fuels the imagination, speaks to our readers’ dreams and deepest desires, where they can cheer for the hero and thrill to read the evil vanquished. In a world of pandemic lockdowns and limited social contact, fantasy allows us to daydream our way out of our problems. The people in the stories are not perfect (who is?) and yet they use their skills to succeed on whatever quest they have undertaken. Fantasy stories speak to our inner selves, to those desires that are buried deep in our hearts.
Underneath it all, fantasy is about the struggle. What does the hero or heroine go through to reach their goal? What obstacles do they have to overcome? Would we have dedicated ourselves to achieve the same thing? Was it all worth it?
If you like fantasy, here is a list of books that may tickle your fancy:
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Eragon by Christopher Paolini
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffery
Subscribe to TDS now so you don't miss out later!