The world of fantasy cannot begin without chaos. It is important we understand that before we open a book. A large part of the allure of the fantasy novel is the chaos, the magic and the dragons, the elves and the harpies. As consumers of the genre, we long to learn abou their existence and survival.
However, the lives of these fantasy creatures and the chaotic elements that surround them, the quest for the grail and the journey to Mordor, would have no relevance to us and be completely superficial if not for the order they come from.
“Lord Gherardus, as you are already aware, the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI, died nearly a year ago. The emperor’s legal son and heir apparent Frederick is but three years of age and cannot yet rule. As we speak, Frederick’s mother, Constance of Sicily, is negotiating with our Holy Father in Rome to provide for the boy’s welfare.” – Excerpt from my book ‘The Crystal Crux-Betrayal”
Many people tend to dread the hows and whys of fantasy novels. In my book, the whole world my characters exist in has been shaken by the Emperor’s death. Privileged powers are fighting to take the open throne. Everyone beneath them is simply a pawn.
Sometimes writers and readers think there is too much information to be presented, too many names and places to reveal. The problem with that thinking, however, is that without those margins and borderlines, the hows and whys of the characters would never materialize. Everything the characters decide to do would be random occurrences based on whims – and whims are boring. They happen occasionally and can turn a tale on its ear but they can’t be the motor for the vehicle. We can’t keep relying on whims and still succeed. Even in fantasy, that would be implausible.
Why did Arthur’s knights seek out the grail? Was it on a lark?
Why take the ring to Mordor? Without all the backstory about the ring, you might as well stuff it in a shoe box and bury it in the earth and be done.
Sometimes, for a while, the writer and the reader have to allow the adventure to slow down and taste the foundational mud of the world the characters live in. There are reasons, based on law and culture, tradition, upbringing, that motivate people to do what they do, think what they think. To rise up into the chaos we seek to find in fantasy novels, we have to know the anchors that keep the world tenable.
Yes, we want snarling dragons that are cruel and nearly indestructible but nearly is the key. They can’t be indestructible. They can’t be mindless beasts that exist only for vengeance with no Achilles heel.
Everything in our world has to have a weakness. The same is true of the fantasy world. Without weakness, without vulnerability, we simply don’t care. The action intensifies dramatically but it will mean nothing to us if there is nothing risked because nothing can be lost. We have to know that our characters have lost and can lose. When the chaos surrounds them, they are not only fighting their enemies, they are battling the wounds of their own conscience.
Magic must have limitations too. No one wants a wizard that can cast every spell all the time. This is why there is often a mention of manna, an expendable resource that magicians have only in limited quantity. They have to be judicial with how they use their magic. It will tire them, wear them out and weaken them if they use it too much.
We don’t want death to be ever become trivial or resurrection assured.
If we don’t believe a character is susceptible to pain, injury or misfortune; if we don’t believe they can love or hate, get jealous or angry, than they are worthless to us. We just don’t care what happens to them and we are wasting our time writing about them or reading about them.
When I’m writing, I want the reader to hate the bad people, despise the wicked characters BUT I also want the reader to understand why they think and behave the way to do. I don’t want them to simply think of them as lunatics allowed to run free. There has to be an order to things, an established set of laws and controls that the characters themselves acknowledge exist. They must learn to navigate them despite their depravity.
If you think of Sandor Clegane, the Hound, in George R.R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Fire and Ice’, you think of his savage ferocity and combat skills. What you don’t think of, but realize in the back of your mind is true, that despite his physical advantages and ability to do evil, he still has to play by the rules of the court to survive. He often has to stand by and let his betters order him about, call him names and treat him like a dog. If he were to disobey and just act on his ruthlessness blindly, he would die right away. As you read the story, you realize there is restraint in the Hound, reasons he absorbs the abuse and obeys their commands.
We need that from all our fantasy characters whether or not they be a knight, a fairy, a goblin or a dragon. They must live by some set of rules, externally and morally. When they do this, we can identify with them because we live by rules as well.
The true magic of fantasy is the belief that we can breech the walls of our rules if and when we finally deem it necessary. We can elevate and face chaos head on.
So when you read fantasy novels, don’t let yourself be bored by the ordinary things that seem ponderous, information about the kingdoms and the laws, for they are the bedrock of the fantasy world. Without a form of stability to leap from, chaos has no reason, and we will never become emotionally connected to the characters leaping off the cliffs into the abyss.
In my book, The Crystal Crux-Betrayal, Pero de Alava had imagined that his life was safe and secure in the confines of the land’s law and order but evidence to the contrary has arisen. The powers that be are now after him. Law and order, represented by the court at Parthenope and the Roman Catholic Church, are no longer his allies. His plunge into chaos appears to be his only hope for salvation. The things that once seemed magical and unimaginable are becoming more and more necessary. Characters From My Book
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