Fantasy Friday is my new feature, made to replace Why You Should Read This Book. It will be posted every other Friday. It’s pretty self-explanatory: I do a feature on something to do with the genre. Sometimes it will be a book recommendation, sometimes showcasing a book or series I’ve loved and other times it might be a discussion post. You’re more than welcome to join in with this feature, let me know if you make your own Fantasy Friday post!
Today I want to talk about: common themes in fantasy fiction.
In many fantasy worlds, there is a monarchical system, or the story often involves bringing back the rightful heir to the throne (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). Or, as in the series A Song of Ice and Fire, there are many rival houses fighting for the throne, each with their own aims and ways of life. Or in books such as Prince of Thorns, the story is told from the point of view of a member of the royal family – but Jorg is perhaps not your typical monarch! Like King Joffrey Baratheon, many royals are not best suited to ruling the people – it often seems to me that in fantasy fiction, rulers go either way. They are either evil and hated, or wonderful and kind. And you know, sometimes they just deserve to be slapped.
2. A ‘Chosen One’
Often, our once normal seeming main character finds out that they are destined to do something. Just look at Harry Potter. It feels like a bit of an overused concept – the idea that this one person is the only one who can bring peace to the world – but it works. Peter V. Brett has a interesting spin on this with his Demon Cycle series, where the Deliverer could either be Arlen or Jardir. This sort of plotline often involves a prophecy of some kind, predicting the events that the hero(ine) has to undertake.
3. A ‘Dark Lord’
And with the Chosen One comes the Dark Lord! The evil foe that our Chosen One has to overcome, and many series actually just use the title ‘Dark Lord’ (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter). In many books the Dark Lord seems to do little himself, and frequently uses minions or messengers (Nazgul, Dementors, Death Eaters) to do his bidding.
4. An epic quest
Many times in fantasy novels, our heroes have to save the world – and they’re the only ones who can do it. Whether it’s destroying a magical object or an enemy force, it’s normally a long and arduous process with many trying events.
5. Elves and dwarves
Although fantasy novels tend to cover many different races, elves and dwarves seem to be the most common. And, as in Tolkien’s work, rivalry between the two is common. Of course, the two mythological races have been part of folk tales for many centuries – but it was Tolkien that gave elves their taller form that is frequently seen in fantasy today. In The Lord of the Rings elves are a proud and majestic race, in stark comparison to their down-trodden counterparts in the Dragon Age series, where elves are enslaved.
e.g: Anything by Tolkien, Dark Legacy of Shannara, Dragon Age
Tough old beasts, dragons. Sometimes they’re not too bad. But other times… you don’t want to get on the wrong side of Smaug. I really see them as the ‘ultimate’ fantasy beast, there’s something about them that is both terrifying and fascinating at the same time. They often appear majestic, the fantasy equivalent of the lion. Often king of the mountain, rather than of the jungle though…
e.g: The Hobbit, Dragonriders of Pern, A Wizard of Earthsea, Eragon, The Neverending Story, A Song of Ice and Fire
7. A question of loyalty
With our Chosen One and his epic quest, comes the trusty companions. But sometimes they’re not so trustworthy. Whilst it is not always the fault of the character – for example, Boromir turning against Frodo at the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring/beginning of The Two Towers because of the influence of the Ring – there are many sudden betrayals and shocking twists when it comes to friendships.
Brave knights in shining armour, swooping down to save the damsel in distress… yeah, not always a feature in fantasy. Often you’ll find that the knights aren’t quite as brave or honourable as they should be. A Song of Ice and Fire is full of Sers, and many of them are not at all deserving of such a title – but it’s the kind of place where you don’t rise up the food chain by being nice. Plus there are many fantasy novels based around Arthurian legend, which of course feature knights, and play upon the familiar figures in their own way.
9. Assassins & thieves
I always find something fascinating with this particular type of person. In video games I tend to play the sneaky assassin type classes (my newest Skyrim character is a heartless assassin and a thief). There has to be someone for the knights to protect the common people from! But then there are stories like Graceling where the main character does not want to do these things, but has no other choice.
e.g: Throne of Glass, Graceling, The Lies of Locke Lamora, Assassin’s Apprentice, The Princess Bride
And of course – magic! A very, very common theme in fantasy, it works in so many different ways. In Harry Potter, it’s a case of waving your wand and saying the right words. In The Name of the Wind, magic, or ‘sympathy’, requires some sort of sacrifice. Magic in The Demon Cycle series is dark and involves demon remains – whereas the Abhorsen trilogy covers necromancy. And sometimes magic just doesn’t feel like the right word for the kinds of skills characters have; it feels too juvenile.