The Politics of Fantasy

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Akhi Pillalamarri
Head Web Content Contributor
Twitter | Website

 

The United States is in the midst of one of the most exciting cycles in recent history. People are thinking about politics more than ever. After all, it is a contentious topic which effects everyone in some way or the other.

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In the Shadow of ‘The Ring’

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Madeleine Cassier
Producer
Website | Twitter | GoodreadsBookTube

A Companion to TBT Episode 07

Unpopular opinion alert: I’m not the biggest fan of Tolkien — specifically, of The Lord of the Rings.

516GyHY9p6LI know this is essentially heresy to admit to the teeming hordes of guys and gals who, like me, adore the fantasy genre. But, alas, ’tis true that I am not on the side of Mr. J.R.R. Despite this general dislike, I’m relatively fair-minded and can acknowledge that The Lord of the Rings is one of the most recognizable works of the fantasy genre — even with more modern series such as George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, The Lord of the Rings is the ultimate poster-child for marketing fantasy to a mainstream audience.

That being said: I don’t think that Tolkien “inventedmodern fantasy as we know it. This, I’m sure, is also going to rankle even more people, especially given that many people would argue that The Lord of the Rings “created ‘fantasy’ as a marketing category” (Yolen, After the King: Stories in Honour of J.R.R. Tolkien), despite the fact that fantasy existed long before Tolkien published his trilogy. 

But I don’t want to talk about the myriad of works previous to Tolkien…I actually just want to talk about one: Der Ring des Nibelungen, or The Ring of the Nibelung by Richard Wagner.

41Um5nZQuXL._SY355_For those of you unfamiliar with German opera: The Ring Cycle, as it’s frequently called, is a cycle of four opera seria (dramatic operas) written about a century before Tolkien, that’s loosely based on characters from Germanic and Norse mythological sagas, specifically the Volsunga saga and the Nibelungenlied. Its got giants, dwarves, gods, forbidden romances, action, adventure — basically everything you could ever want from an epic fantasy story, and all across four operas which, when performed, are staged over the course of several days.

Even with all of those elements, at the very centre of this massive tale is a magic ring fashioned from Rhine gold that allows its bearer to rule the world.

Sound familiar?

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What Fantasy Taught Me About Love

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Akhi Pillalamarri
Head Web Content Contributor
Twitter | Website

 

Hello readers and friends! Valentine’s Day is approaching and be sure to tune in to listen to our special Book Table episode about sex in fantasy, which will be released on the 10th! Plus, our very own Dorothy will have a special follow-up post for that day. We also had a nanosode about a married couple who write together- February seems to be the month for talk about romance.

Today, however, I’m going to talk about some of the lessons of romance, love, and moving on that I’ve gleaned from reading fantasy. One of the reasons I love fantasy so much is that as I immerse myself in worlds and their characters, I learn, through empathy or example, so much about life. These are not things one can learn from reading abstract philosophy or history that deals with power struggles and interstate interactions on a scale not relevant to daily life. There’s something about the struggle of a heroic character in fantasy, even when he or she is flawed, that inspires one to be a better person. When you live out a character’s struggles in literature, it sometimes makes you a stronger person.

Spoiler-warning

This post contains minor spoilers for both The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan and the second Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson.

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Setting the Story: Medieval vs Early Modern

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Akhi Pillalamarri
Head Web Content Contributor
Twitter | Website

Fantasy, as a genre, has largely been associated with the Middle Ages. While this is obviously not always the case, especially with those stories set in the real world (many of which, like Harry Potter, take place in contemporary times), there is some truth to this. The fantasy movement did grow out of the Romantic movement of the 19th century, which was, in part, a reaction against the science and rationalism of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. The “Medievalism” of fantasy is related the genre’s use of magic, awe, emotions, folklore and escapism, as alternatives to the increasingly rationality, homogeneity, and banality of modern existence.

Thus, most constructed fantasy worlds, both historical and mythical, are essentially Medieval European in nature. These can either be based off of the Dark Ages (500-1000) of early Medieval Europe, which gives off an “empty-world” sort of feeling, or the more crowded and better-historically documented High Middle Ages (1000-1350). Jump forward a bit, and you may or may not be in the fantasy genre anymore. This is when you get to Steampunk based off of the 19th century Victorian Era, or the slightly later Dieselpunk, based off of the “interwar period” (1918-1939) through the 1950s. Relatively little fantasy is set in worlds inspired by the ancient and classical periods of human history. 

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Worldbuilding: A Look at the Empty Spaces

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Akhi Pillalamarri
Head Web Content Contributor
Twitter | Website

 

During this most recent Thanksgiving vacation, my brother and I ended up watching parts of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies on television. This is not an uncommon occurrence; we’ve immersed ourselves in the beautiful scenery from Middle Earth countless times.

While watching the third Hobbit movie, Battle of the Five Armies, this time, I happened to notice and remark on something that always struck me about Middle Earth: it is, for the most part, a vast and empty place. While there are some settled regions that give us either a stately (Gondor) or cozy (Shire) vibe, settlements are few are far between, and the breathtaking beauty can be quite lonely. Unlike in the real world, where there are people and tribes everywhere (like Rohan), the settlements of this world, like Bree and Dale, are few and far between.

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