Link Round-Up: The Vast World of Fantasy

Recently, we’ve all been treated to another new piece of the Potterverse: details on the American wizarding school, Ilvermorny. In fact, those wizards and witches blessed enough – or those muggles who have their own Pottermore accounts – had already been sorted into Ilvermorny’s houses.

The constant addition of details into the Potterverse canon may come off as Rowling’s attempt to breathe new life into something that’s already passed its prime, but it also tells everyone – fans of the Harry Potter series, readers, and the general public – that there is still much to explore and to be found in the fantasy world of Harry Potter. The continuous expansion and fleshing out of the series’ universe – even years after the seventh book about Harry’s life came out – serves as a testament to the flexibility and vastness of the world, and of fantasy as a genre, in general.

This post will be a short – but sweet – one: a list of links directing you to websites, lists, articles, and writing advice about fantasy books. This one’s to tide you over until the next big post – which should come out soon.

So – without further ado: the vast world of fantasy!

  • Top 10 Women Writers of Fantasy (Part 1) – fantasy fiction appears to be a male-dominated field. However, there are a lot of excellent women writers of fantasy who should be read by any good fantasy fan. This link provides a partial list of those excellent writers – so if you’re looking for a good read, you may want to consult this list.
  • Top 10 Fantasy Worlds in Literature – We’re all familiar with Middle-Earth, Narnia, and Harry Potter’s wizarding world. Perhaps we’re even familiar with the Wheel of Time’s setting, or Ansalon. These are settings we might know by heart now, having read and reread books and journeyed over and over again with our favorite characters. However, fantasy settings aren’t strictly tied to high fantasy books. This list provides a good sampling of fantasy worlds in literature – from Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, to Thomas More’s Utopia.
  • Top 15 Fantasy worlds in video games – Video games have always been great when it comes to immersing people, pulling them into virtual worlds. Certainly, games are no stranger to all things fantasy. This article lists down the top fantasy worlds in video games – so far – in which thousands of video game players have spent countless hours in.
  • Brent Weeks’ Writing Advice – Something for the writers out there. There’s a lot of writing advice on the Internet, but today, we’re looking specifically at Brent Weeks – author of the Night Angel trilogy – and his advice on writing fantasy.
  • Brandon Sanderson Writing Lectures – And finally – here’s a link to the masterpost of the first series of video lectures conducted by Mistborn trilogy and Stormlight Archive author Brandon Sanderson (whom you may also know as the guy who finished Robert Jordan’s the Wheel of Time series). Certainly helpful for budding young fantasy writers who really need solid advice from an expert.

There! Have a great time looking through the links. And if you find some more interesting fantasy-related links for everyone, just let us know in the comments! (And if you haven’t yet, don’t forget to get sorted and find out what your Ilvermorny house is!)

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Why Fairy Tales are Appealing (and the Creative Things We Can Learn from Them)

Fairy tales these days are hastily associated with one of the biggest names in the entertainment industry: Disney. One certainly can’t deny that Disney’s done a lot to deliver fairy tales in easily digestible, not-quite-morbid visual treats, the kind that kids and adults alike can enjoy. Disney-fied fairy tales give the stories happy endings, and don’t capitalize on the dire implications that are present in original versions. There is no lady who cuts off parts of her own foot so she could force the foot into a glass slipper. Sleeping Beauty doesn’t get pregnant and give birth – while still sleeping – in the Disney film. And while Hercules’ story is not a fairy tale, Disney has altered the narrative so much that one would be, maybe, shocked to find out that Hercules – while pretty strong – isn’t the gallant gentleman that he is in the Disney film.

But the Disney versions of fairy tales deliver a specific thing, and probably wouldn’t have worked as well, if they had depicted fairy tales in their original forms. Which is interesting, because a lot of people seem to be more interested in the original – and considerably more morbid – versions of fairy tales, despite the Disney films having special places in peoples’ hearts.

The fairy tale’s enduring appeal may be, in part, because of Disney’s treatment, but if it ends with Disney, then certainly the implication is that the fairy tale is not appealing in itself. Fairy tales often talk about princes and princesses, true love and happy endings, trouble in the middle, godmothers and evil witches, dragons and all sorts of terrible creatures that threaten to keep the prince and the princess apart. But though it’s easy to read the fairy tale as a straightforward story of magic and wonder, there’s certainly a deeper meaning. Fairy tales, among other things, may serve as critiques of expectations of beauty, of the desperation for one to have a beautiful, comfortable life – so much so that one is willing to sacrifice parts of himself or herself to achieve this. There are troublesome villains whose motives may not be entirely clear at first glance, but some of them are actually ostracized and oppressed, and these often plant seeds of hatred.

There’s always the didactic element in fairy tales, but sometimes these tales – especially the ones during the Victorian era, when fairy tales weren’t necessarily limited to the Grimm stories, among other things – deliver valuable lessons that are relatively more dense and nuanced. Fairy tales can be interpreted in many different ways, without compromising the element of enjoyment. That’s why children and adults alike may be able to appreciate them. Look at the fairy tales by George MacDonald, for example. The Light Princess presents reversals of gender roles (it is the princess who saves the prince) – something rather radical, considering the era in which it had been written. Mary de Morgan wrote A Toy Princess, which may be read as a critique of the impractical and pointless ceremony of the upper class, of too much dependence and embellishment put on royalty, of the beauty and practicality of a simple life.

So what can we get from this? Simple. If you’re taking cues from fairy tales, it’s this: that we should be able to try, at least, to craft nuanced narratives that are deep enough for them to be read in certain ways, but light, easy, and fun enough for the younger audience to be able to appreciate them. In short, be able to find what can appeal to your audience. Certainly, the fairy tales already do that, Disney-fiable as they are, even. Fairy tales are timeless stories, perhaps more enduring than the modern classics we have today. They’re valuable gems that deliver lessons and meaning, and are told in a manner that is easy to comprehend but certainly beautiful in their simplicity.

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Of Epic Proportions: The Problem of Lengthy Fantasy

One of the more attractive umbrellas in literature is speculative fiction, and it’s easy to see why. If literature can be escapist, speculative fiction touches on this the best by actually offering a variety of texts that detach the reader from reality for a couple hundred pages, and immerse him or her in a world that is entirely fictional, with improbably things happening within the world. I’m here to talk about a particular genre in the group, though: fantasy.

Fantasy is, of course, a well-established genre spanning a pretty large spectrum of texts. Fantasy has people like J.R.R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit), George R.R. Martin,(A Song of Ice and Fire) and Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time), alongside authors like R.A. Salvatore (The Legend of Drizzt) and Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman (various Dragonlance books). And those are just names that I consider to be under the high/epic fantasy subgenre, because Neil Gaiman is also a fantasy writer, and I’d argue that Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake is also fantasy. What these authors have done with their texts, though, is obvious: create a living, breathing, engaging world, and populate it with characters. Then weave a plot that gets the reader and pulls him or her in. It takes a lot of work – you’re looking at several years’ worth of writing a single series, plus spin-off novels, and it takes effort to get details to mesh together with other details and offer consistency.

And for the most part, this works. If you find yourself looking forward to the next installment of your favorite fantasy series, then you know it works. Even stretched out to more than three books (the trilogy, I think, being a trend in fantasy writing now), if the story engages, it engages. But fantasy, if too epic, if too intricate, if too huge, spawns its own monster. The late Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, I think, is the biggest violator when it comes to creating too huge worlds. Fourteen books – with a single volume averaging around eight-hundred pages – in The Wheel of Time already sounds daunting, and it takes effort on the reader’s part to slog through the middle, because when you get to the middle of the series, something happens. Which is, precisely, nothing.

And I think that’s the problem of too epic fantasy. I am currently reading Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, the first book in the Stormlight Archive, and while I do find it enjoyable and interesting, it’s just too long. The mass-market paperback edition is easily longer than most – if not all of – The Wheel of Time’s paperbacks, and that’s saying something, because Jordan was overly fond of being wordy. Perhaps The Way of Kings’ length owes itself, in part, to the fact that Sanderson had to finish The Wheel of Time on Jordan’s behalf. The Way of Kings does well to build up its characters, their conflicts, and their backstories, but it becomes an exercise of slogging through the introspective chapters and detailed descriptions of what a character is doing (Shallan as she draws, for example, which takes up an entire page and a half – although I might be exaggerating), hoping for the action to pick up.

Perhaps the moral is this: if you can say it in a few words without compromising the quality of writing, do it. Characters are important, definitely. They’re what ties a story together. But if every single detail is given undivided attention, it becomes a drag, no matter how well-written the story is.

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