Guest Blogger - Kandi J. Wyatt
Ever wonder what makes a story fall into the genre of fantasy? Some books out there aren't really real-life fiction, yet at the same time, are they fantasy? Here is a checklist to help you identify true fantasy.
The number one key ingredient to a fantasy story is magic! However, this isn't as straight forward as it seems. Magic can be described as not only "the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces" (Oxford Dictionary Online), but also "the violation of our world's physical laws" (Children's Literature Briefly by Tunell and Jacobs). In C. S. Lewis' classic Narnia series, magic manifests itself in the talking animals and the witch's ability to make it "always winter and never Christmas" for over one hundred years. In the Harry Potter series, magic is more of the first definition with students learning how to cast spells.
Magic is what explains otherwise unexplainable things in fantasy. This is the difference between science fiction and fantasy. In science fiction, science or technology explains the unexplainable. A sword made out of light isn't magic, it's technology. Being able to transport a physical being from one place to another is explained by the atoms being taken apart and then reconstructed, instead of by hocus-pocus. Whereas in fantasy, the sword itself has the power to name someone king, or a spell can transport a person from one place to another. Without magic, there would be no fantasy.
Other WorldsThe second ingredient to fantasy is found in the setting. Most fantasy takes the reader either from the real world and drops them into a new world, or is set completely in another world. Brandon Mull's The Beyonders series takes Jason from his home through a hippopotamus' mouth to the world of Lyrian. Bobby Pendragon flies through the flumes to the territories. These worlds help the main character to grow and become all he or she can be.
Good vs Evil
Often in fantasy there is a classic fight between good vs evil. The Blind King and Jason fight against Maldor. Bobby fights against Saint Dane. Although the lines may get blurred, essentially it is a matter what is right against what is wrong in the world.
Classic fantasy or modern high fantasy usually revolves around a hero or heroes. This person, whether male or female, is usually sent on a quest and must fight through outrageous odds to make it to the end. In the process, these trials are what makes the person grow.
L. R. W. Lee takes Andy from home into a new world where he must try to rid the realm of the curse. In the process, he must stop a leak in the castle, participate in a contest, fight a dragon, and return back to the castle. This set up is considered the 'hero's round'. You'll be surprised to find it in many plot lines, not just fantasy.
Special Character Types
This ingredient of fantasy is one that may or may not exist in a book, but often makes for the most memorable stories. Sorrel and Twigleg from The Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke are several of my favorite characters. Without them, and their antagonism for each other, the story wouldn't be as fun as it is. (Throw in Brandon Frasier reading it, and it makes it one of my favorite fantasies of all.)
Special character types are characters or creatures that are specific to a story or a realm. In The Lord of the Rings it's elves, dwarves, ents, hobbits, and orcs. In Harry Potter it's house elves, cave trolls, and werewolves. According to Children's Literature Briefly, "fantasies may include characters who come from either our legendary past or an author's vivid imagination."
Again, not all fantasy will have fantastical objects, but who doesn't know about the mirror on the wall, or the apple, or the spindle. Fantastical objects are things that carry importance to the story and may be endowed with special powers. In most stories, a broom is used for sweeping, but in Kiki's Delivery Service it's the key to Kiki's profession. The tollbooth seems like a normal kids cardboard toy box, but when Milo climbs into his toy car and drives up to the tollbooth, it becomes the gateway to an unforgettable adventure.
Each of these six motifs create classic fantasy. Children's Literature Briefly sums up these key ingredients this way:
“If a story contains all six, it is either a classic fairy tale or an example of modern high fantasy. However, if a story contains fantasy's one necessary ingredient, the motif of magic or the violation of our world's physical laws, it is still classified as fantasy literature.”
So, next time you wonder how to classify a book you've just read, go through the checklist. You'll be able to clearly tell if it's fantasy or not.
Have you read any great fantasy stories recently? We'd love to hear about them. Just share in the comments section.