Friday, August 26, 2011

Enjoyment Modifiers: Fantasy

Closely related to last week's entry, the genre of Fantasy can probably best be summed up by one word:  magic.  Much like Science Fiction, Fantasy works are built around creating a world different from our own, albeit difference based on the supernatural and mystical rather than scientific.  This isn't always as clear cut a division as it might seem -- many Fantasy works will bring SF elements into themselves, and vice versa.  Generally, whatever aspect is prevalent will determine how the work is categorized, but even that can be a matter of preference.

When talking about Fantasy, people often speak in terms of High Fantasy vs. Low Fantasy, but as demonstrated by a recent conversation with my pal Josh, the text book definitions of the two terms often differ from the general perception people have of the terms.  If you were to consult a text about genre fiction, odds are good it would define High Fantasy as a Fantasy taking place in a world completely different from our own and Low Fantasy as one that takes place in our world, with just a bit of magic sprinkled in.   However, many discussions I've observed among general Fantasy fans shows a different understanding of the terms, with High Fantasy indicating stories filled with epic quests pursued by noble heroes and champions of virtue, while Low Fantasy is much grittier, grimier, and greyer in terms of morality and motivation. 

As with SF, one of the bigger draws of Fantasy for me is world building and seeing the inventiveness of the creators in conjuring up a greatly different world.  Unfortunately, one of the pitfalls of many Fantasy works is an adherence to ideas originating from two sources:  Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons.  While there can still be well-crafted works that draw from these sources, my enjoyment is usually lessened when a work is too obviously derivative.  This is part of why Fantasy's strength as an Enjoyment Modifier is medium across the board for me.  I prefer Fantasy works that invent their own rules for magic rather than consulting the D&D Player's handbook.

This is the first of the genres I've talked about in depth where I feel like the details of the sub-genres and other thematic elements hold more weight in my enjoyment than the trappings of the genre itself, so I think I'll hold off on any more in-depth discussions of Fantasy tropes and themes until I get to them.

 Audience participation time:  Do you love to escape into worlds filled with magic, or do you prefer your fiction to stay rooted firmly on the ground?

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