Fantasy Friday: My Earliest Experiences

When I was a child I thought I would grow up to hunt monsters–all manner of beasts, and evil men as well. I thought I would be a righteous force in the world, that I would wield a blade like an overzealous paladin in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign to sort out the wicked from the goodly. (It bears noting I never played D&D until I was well into my 20s). My sense of morality then was certainly more black and white than it is now, and maturity has made the legality of certain dreams abundantly clear before my tired eyes. But I can’t help but wonder what else might be out there–things we can never fully understand about the world and ourselves, things that we don’t need to understand, only to feel.

It pains me to admit it as a scholar and a man of reason, but I fully believe the greatest wonders lie in mystery. To understand and explore the physical universe is one thing, and most assuredly it is a good thing, but to convince yourself that that is all there is seems (honestly) monstrous to me. Now, I am not a particularly religious person, but I wonder at the mysteries that still persist that we have not fully explained away. I find it thrilling to consider that there might still be some little glimmer of magic, of the supernatural, out there in our world. And deep down I hope that within that hidden world there might even be the monsters that so filled me with a sense of purpose in my youth.

Is that perhaps a bit off the mark? Does it sound insane? Selfish, in some odd ways? I think all of these might be true. After all, we are mere mortals–we’re all a little off the mark, a little insane, and a little selfish, at least sometimes. And it’s in that world of sometimes and maybes that fantasy will always thrive.

To paraphrase a saying from G. K. Chesterton, fairy tales (or fantasy stories, if you will) do not teach children that dragons exist, but rather that dragons can be defeated. I have learned to see monsters in a different light as I have gotten older. True, I have always known the most fearsome monsters were human beings themselves, but I have deepened my view beyond that. My monsters–those I have sworn to smite down and slay–are those things that stand in my way, that make me unhappy, and that prevent my enjoyment of my life. Most assuredly, other people stand in my way quite often but I do not do harm to them. Even slaying has taken on a different meaning as the child within recedes. In our world, where we are forced to be pacifist and complacent for most of our lives, the most heroic actions most of us will be able to commit all involve personal choices–and I equate slaying a monster with limiting negative influences in my life. I think that this is a point worth considering.

So what are your earliest experiences with the fantasy genre? What made you wonder if there was magic in the world? What are your monsters? Below, I also want to share with you three things that helped make me a fanatic of fantasy in my youth.

A book:

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The Crystal Shard by R.A. Salvatore

The Crystal Shard by R. A. Salvatore was the first of his books about the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden, and it taught young me a lot about honor, integrity, friendship, and acceptance. Though I’m sad to say I’ve outgrown a lot of Salvatore’s work, I owe him a debt for helping to expose me to a wide world of fantasy novels.

A video game:

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Diablo title screen

I recently wrote up a nostalgia post about Diablo over at quaintjeremy’s thoughts. Go and give it a look when you have time, but the short version is that this game–a classic of dark, supernatural fantasy–entered my life at an appropriately dark time and provided me an outlet for my feelings, allowing me to feel powerful in a powerless situation.

And a film:

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The 13th Warrior

The 13th Warrior, a 90s movie starring Antonio Banderas based on a novel by Michael Crichton entitled Eaters of the Dead, is not a true fantasy story, but does share the same roots. Aside from being the only truly good Viking movie ever made, The 13th Warrior is also a re-imagining of the story of Beowulf, which many rightly argue was an inspiration for many early works of fantasy. I would say it is a close enough fit, though, based on the criteria I listed in my last post. Give it a viewing if you haven’t seen it and you’ll see what I mean.

And that’s what I have for this week. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Fantasy Friday: So Why Fantasy?

I’ve been binge watching the third season of Hell on Wheels since it appeared on Netflix earlier this week. It’s one of my favorite shows that’s currently running, and there are a few reasons for that. Primarily, I enjoy the interactions of the main character, Cullen Bohannon, with the world in which he finds himself. Hell on Wheels is a postbellum (or post-Civil War) story, and Cullen is a former Confederate cavalryman from Meridian, Mississippi forced to live in an unfamiliar, even alien, world building a railroad into the west.

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Hell on Wheels

You may be wondering what this has to do with the fantasy genre, and you are right to bring that up at this point. You see, to a mainstream audience, a Western or other sort of mid-19th Century period piece may be more palatable than a tale of knights and wizards, but it has a lot more in common with Avalon and Middle-Earth than you’d initially think.

Much like a good fantasy story, a solid Western places a somewhat familiar person–an idealized version of how we see ourselves, perhaps, or a blank slate character we can imagine ourselves becoming (think Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name)–in a barely unfamiliar place. Indeed, the world(s) shown in most Westerns is/are simply a creation of early 20th Century pulp writers and mid-20th Century filmmakers. Further, it was Stephen King (when speaking of his ideas for The Gunslinger) who pointed out how The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly made the Wild West seem like an alien world where distances seemed to work differently than the norm, raising all sorts of questions in the minds of attentive viewers.

Let’s take stock of where we are so far: an unfamiliar, nearly magical world; a lost golden age created entirely through stories told and retold again and again; everyman (or everywoman, if you will) heroes meant to speak to a common decency we all keep hidden in our hearts; and fighting for a cause, even if it’s lost (in reference again to Cullen Bohannon, above). All of these effectively (if generally) describe both Westerns and fantasy stories.

And that is why I enjoy both. There’s more to be said, but those are my thoughts for now. What do you all think of the two genres? Let me know in the comments below.

What If Wednesday: Topsy-Turvy Tales

I have a confession to make. I’m a total geek for fairy tale adaptations. I absolutely adore the idea of topsy-turvy fairy tales in which an author re-imagines the lives of characters whom we all know and love. (My current favorite author who pens these sorts of tales is Gregory Maguire. You can read this post to learn more about his work.)

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Bizarre fairy tale adaptations from Litstack.com

I’m enamored by the seemingly simple idea of What If? I say simple because it’s probably something we’ve all done at least once, either as children or as adults—after finishing a fairy tale, we throw out that simple question. What if? Though a simple question, the answer can be as miniscule as morphing Snow White into the lead singer of a heavy metal band or as enormous as meshing Oz and Wonderland together. What if can lead to all sorts of quirky new worlds with characters who seem vaguely familiar, yet they are somehow brand new.

Of course, the What if is nothing new. Storytellers have been adapting this little trick of the trade for as far back as one can imagine, but the rising popularity of such tales within the last decade alone makes me smile. Take the Shrek movies, for example. These movies are based on re-imagined nursery rhymes and fairy tales alike. I love them because they’re like a big pot of childhood, mashed together and sprinkled with humor that the kids laugh at but don’t completely comprehend.

Shrek

I love every aspect of the re-imagined fairy tales. I’m intrigued by an author’s vision when beginning to brainstorm the ideas for stories such as these. The very idea seems rogue and almost forbidden, yet it heightens the sense of creativity and imagination. Yes, anyone could dream up a genie stuck in a lamp, but what if…?

And so, I introduce What If Wednesday. I’d like to delve more deeply into the simple, yet complex idea of what if and how it plays into stories that we have known and loved forever. In fact, I’d love contributions to this category. Do you have ideas related to the What if scenario? Have you written a topsy-turvy fairy tale that you’d like to share? Email me at carvingoutaspace@gmail.com if you’re interested in contributing to What If Wednesday.

I can’t wait to see what we discover next.

 

**What if, instead of being a pirate, Captain Hook was a cowboy? How might that story evolve?

Which Fantasy World Do You Live In?

I’m on a fantasy kick lately, but it’s not just any fantasy. Fantasy from my childhood, the stuff I grew up on. Stories like The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, movies like Legend and Labyrinth. (BTW, with all the remakes of olden classics like Oz and Wonderland, I wonder how long it will be before someone makes over Legend and Labyrinth?)

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Jim Henson’s Labyrinth

So, my latest brain buzz makes me wonder: which fantasy world do you live in? Which magical land raised you and opened your eyes to the mysteries and delights of fantasy literature and the capabilities of imagination?

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Disney’s Alice in Wonderland

Tell me. Perhaps there are some I have never experienced.