Monday, May 17, 2010

11 things I love about the fantasy genre

I read many types of books, both fiction and nonfiction, but the fantasy genre always stays at the top of my reading pile. Many of the elements of fantasy that perpetually attract me are:

1. Sword fights - Some critics might label them juvenile, but the thought of defending myself from death and dismemberment is undeniably exciting. Swinging the blade along with a hero or heroine sweetly satisfies because it lets the civilized mind explore the properly forbidden realm of violence. As a reader, I am also attracted to the power represented by the sword. This ancient weapon meant for war and not hunting is a potent symbol, forged from the ores of the Earth and given deadly force by the strength of flesh. These ancient truths resonate with me.

2. Magical Races - Magic is an essential element for fantasy literature. It can come in many forms, but I prefer the magic to be exclusive to a special race. I enjoy thinking about a race apart from humanity that has an expanded command of the forces of the universe.

3. Pre-industrial societies - Most, but not all, fantasy novels are set in a world that is pre-industrial. It usually has technology similar to that of the ancient world or Medieval times. I think this setting is attractive to me because there are no cars. I'll admit it. I like horses. Better yet, how about riding a dragon?

4. High stakes - By this I mean that the plot is usually driven by the need to save the world, save the kingdom, save the princess, etc. It is something very important that matters to humanity, or elves, or fairies, or whoever. General fiction stories set in my real world simply don't captivate me nearly as often. I want to think big and get away from my little life.

5. Political intrigue - Many fantasy books include characters who are among the elite of society. Kings, priests, scholars, generals, warriors. Such characters are usually trying to maintain their political power and are under attack from scheming rivals. It is fun to read about people facing such problems in which failure can mean assassination, execution, or exile. I guess I enjoy fantasizing about being in charge.

6. Social commentary - Although fantasy tends to focus on hereditary aristocratic elites, the storylines often include other segments of society. Slavery, racial prejudice, gender oppression, religious fanaticism, and child labor frequently are examined within the fictional contexts of fantasy literature. I like fiction that tackles weighty themes that trouble our real world, and fantasy books can sometimes critically illuminate social ills.

7. Mythic scope - The events and characters in fantasy often operate on the level of legends and the shaping of worlds. This is very appealing because it adds to the impact of the story. The story is about something that mattered to the world, to its history and maybe even its creation.

8. Heroes - This is the genre that delivers good old fashioned sword-swinging heroes who will take on the bad guys. Such raw elemental displays of bravery make good reading.

9. Quests - The characters usually have to endure long dangerous journeys. They have to go here and get this magic amulet. They have to go there and build an alliance and gain an army. Quests are a very effective plot device, and I like the straightforwardness of it.

10. Taverns - Quests inevitably involve stopping somewhere for the night, getting a drink and dinner, and probably hiring a mercenary. Anyone who has been on a road trip can appreciate that feeling of wary excitement when entering a strange watering hole. Tavern scenes serve as a great way to bind the mythic and heroic characters to the readers by putting them in such an intimate and familiar situation.

11. Monsters - All manner of vicious beasts, undead, dragons, and tentacle-waving horrors assault the adventurers, and it often makes for thrilling action. I like these metaphorical battles that represent my fears of the overwhelming force of Nature, and, beyond that, the supernatural. Fighting monsters resonates with something deep in humanity that once struggled through a truly threatening and primeval world.

This rich and varied genre lets me enjoy my imagination and draw upon the deep experiences of humanity through the ages. I invite readers to discover my four-part fantasy series The Rys Chronicles by downloading Union of Renegades.