Last month, I drunkenly dragged my friend into a bookshop despite his protests. I picked up a handful of books, and he thrust a thick 600 pager onto my pile. It was a fantasy novel. My friend assured me it was a good read, but having held it, I decided to give it a go. What else would I have to lose? At worst, it’d ended up on another list of books I’ve never finished, or I’d call my friend desperate for another recommendation because I need another hit from an invented world.
The story my mate sold to me centre’s around a man seeking to learn the name of the wind. There’s a reason for it, and like most things, that reason is power. We’re led to believe this was all achieved out of a sense of evil and injustice. However, as the book develops, we learn the real reason — desperation, love, vengeance.
Childhood Memories of “Fantasy” Movies
The Lord of the Rings
When I was a kid, my parents, brother and I used to order a takeaway and watch a movie for our birthdays. Whoever’s birthday it was got to choose the film and the food. My brother always wanted Chinese; I opted for pizza. The movie I decided on in early 2001 was, of course, The Lord of The Rings.
The DVD came out in time for my birthday. I’d seen all the trailers and anticipated watching the biggest film of the year for my birthday. My mum seemed sceptical and questioned my decision, reminding me repeatedly the film was nearly 4 hours long. But that wouldn’t dissuade me. I don’t know why I wanted to watch this film, but I’d waited, and the time was coming closer, four hours of pure enjoyment sat on the horizon.
It wasn’t the case. We finished the pizza, and still had over four hours of screen time left. I had no idea what was going on or who was talking. I didn’t understand the film. Maybe, I was too young. Maybe, I didn’t pay much attention. My dad loved the movie, and my brother seemed content to continue watching. Mum and I slipped out to the kitchen, and she repeatedly apologised for my spoiled birthday. It wasn’t her fault, but the film made me rethink fantasy-based storytelling.
I think my excitement towards The Lord of the Rings came from watching Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. My brother fell asleep, but my dad answered every question I asked. I’d never seen the original Star Wars, the three films in the ’70s regarded by many as the best of the franchise. I might be the only person who can say they enjoyed the first/ fourth instalment of the multi-faceted film series.
Enjoyment aside, it didn’t encourage me to watch the first three or seek out the second and third instalments. In my friendship groups, I’m one of the few who didn’t rush out to watch the recent seventh film. The star war paraphernalia skipped me by as did comic books and superhero films. I guess I never took to making things up, at least not imagined worlds or non-human characters with human characteristics.
The Fantasy Novel
Game of Thrones: Book One
Everyone recommended the TV series to me. My boss told me it was a must-watch and that I should spend my holiday catching up in time for the final season. It’s not that I was opposed to watching the series, but I was trying to write a novel and knew what I was like TV series. I’d have binged watched every episode whether I loved it or not, and if I did enjoy it, I’d have watched all the fan-made YouTube videos. I try and actively avoid long seasons because it takes up a lot of time that I’d rather spend writing and reading.
And I did read Game of Thrones. The first book, not the entire Fire and Ice series, although I had every intention to do so. I felt connected to the characters and developed a fondness for Ned Stark, I thought he’d become the main hero of the story, but George Martin broke every written rule in a long-running series. I couldn’t imagine Harry Potter if Harry suffered the same fate in book one. Unfortunately, I haven’t committed to the second book.
George Martins books are too long at times. I think that’s one of the reasons I dislike the genre in general. Long novels tend to throw me off because I have a very hectic lifestyle at times. If I can’t read the book within a week, then it feels as though it drags on a bit and I find myself forgetting the story before that. I love the feeling of reaching the end of a good story and discovering how everything comes together. I don’t like waiting for that. I think that was a significant issue with the next book.
The Name of the Wind
From the first page of this book, I was hooked. I wanted to read and discover what was going on and what the big deal about this main character, Kvothe (pronounced Quothe), was. The title seemed unimaginative until I began to understand what it represented and how it shaped Kvote’s quest. The book had plenty of page-turning moments. But the one thing that drew me into the story was some of the quotable lines from the narrative. The fantasy elements were abundant, but the characters felt human.
The first 200-300 pages, the usual length of novels I read, had me gripped, and I loved the book, despite my reservations about fantasy. Short chapters gave the story a sense of urgency, but also helped break up the vast amounts of information thrown at me during the narrative. My favourite part of the novel is when Kvothe introduces himself to a journalist because the nice guy we’d seen is transformed into a man who most people have seen as a demon. However, the story turns it back around and forces us to relate to the younger man.
The problem with this book was, as I said earlier, the length of it. Most novels would have been over, and I’d have a sense of closure about things. Instead of craving a satisfying end, I daydreamed and glossed over the story. Fantasy often includes a larger word count than other novels, because it requires a considerable amount of description. However, the description felt lacking, and the word count seemed made up of too many scenes that could have been cut to shorten the narrative. But then again, these scenes showed the imaginary world. I prefer people.
The Exception Proves the Rule
I love everything about Harry Potter, the books, the films, everything. A lot of this love comes from my childhood and reminiscing over reading the books a kid, captivated by the mysterious world of Hogwarts and wishing I had magical powers. The trip through London and the human elements of the story never made the series feel like fantasy, but to a child, it felt like something that may exist. If anything, I was upset that I wasn’t one of the lucky ones. I believed the world that much.
What separates Harry Potter from my other fantasy journeys is the length of the first few books. This is essential, because once the novels had grown longer, I had already become accustomed to the world of Harry Potter, and fell in love with the characters. Plus, the way the story was set, was around a child learning about the world, so we, the readers, joined that adventure with Harry himself.
I understand the story was written for kids, but it also addresses darker themes, such as death. I wouldn’t ascribe the term children’s fantasy to the series, but I understand a lot of people don’t share the same love for the novels. I disagree with you, but I do accept that the stories, based on the word for word writing aren’t the best-written stories out there, but JK Rowling does describe her world pretty well, and there’s no denying that she thought a lot about the world and how to bring it to life.
Dystopia? A Short Jump to Fantasy
The challenge with fantasy is convincing the reader the world or ideas are believable, but Dystopia needs grow from something that’s already real. For this reason, fantasy needs to explain everything, because a plot hole can tear apart the entire fabric of the foundations of a novel, and this may cause descriptions to run on, with scenes that exist to sow the world because its essential to the final climax. But without prior explanation would feel like a convenient plot point.
We don’t need to know how we ended up in the new world with dystopia we just need to know we’re in it. The world exists already, and to some degree, so do the terrible leaders that inhabit these realms. It’s believable, and sometimes, too believable. Dystopian novels show us the worst horrors of humanity in a way that doesn’t keep us up at night, unlike the real atrocities of the historical regimes.
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