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Discussions about books > Realistic Touchpoints for a Fantasy World: Pro & Con

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message 1: by Robert (new)

Robert Wright (rhwright) | 130 comments It occurred to me as I was reading The Gods of Mars that some fantastic (fantasy/scifi) tales use a "normal" POV character as a touchpoint for readers. Think John Carter, Alice in Wonderland, Buck Rodgers, or (everyone's favorite) Thomas Covenant. Characters from our real world who go somewhere fantastic and have extraordinary experiences. While other fantastic worlds are wholly self-contained. E.g. Middle Earth, etc.

Don't really have a point to make, just wanted to throw the observation out there and see what others think.

Is one more accessible/enjoyable than the other? Why does there seem to be fewer of the first type today and more emphasis on world building?


message 2: by MrsJoseph *grouchy*, *good karma* (new)

MrsJoseph *grouchy* (mrsjoseph) | 7282 comments Robert wrote: "Think John Carter, Alice in Wonderland, Buck Rodgers, or (everyone's favorite hated) Thomas Covenant."

There, fixed that for you.


message 3: by Naiya (last edited Sep 19, 2012 08:56AM) (new)

Naiya | 13 comments I'd make the argument that Tolkien brings in a normal POV character as well. Or rather, the trend is to bring an outsider (Alice, John Carter, Harry Potter, Bilbo Baggins) and introduce him into the new world. Sometimes, an author throws the character into an entirely new world, but sometimes, as with the Hobbits, the "new world" is actually a continuation of their world--just the world beyond their every-day lives a la Hero's Journey.

Me, I prefer an outsider character who is already grounded in his/her world.

With a character from another world (ie Alice), there is that adjustment period ("Is this real? Am I dreaming? What is this?") that is often very hard to pull off in a believable manner. How fast will a normal person adjust to the discovery that everything they ever know is a lie? Or that there is magic, aliens, vampires out there? The other issue is that the author often falls into the trap of using the character's confusion to dive into an impromptu Q&A session ("Oh, but how do you aliens live like that?" "Well, let me give you a not-so-brief lesson on alien culture!").

I like a more organic approach to discovering a world.


message 4: by Robert (last edited Sep 19, 2012 09:41AM) (new)

Robert Wright (rhwright) | 130 comments MrsJoseph wrote: "Robert wrote: "Think John Carter, Alice in Wonderland, Buck Rodgers, or (everyone's favorite hated) Thomas Covenant."

There, fixed that for you."


Sorry, forgot to include the < sarcasm > < /sarcasm > tags around that.


message 5: by MrsJoseph *grouchy*, *good karma* (new)

MrsJoseph *grouchy* (mrsjoseph) | 7282 comments Canary wrote: "I'd make the argument that Tolkien brings in a normal POV character as well. Or rather, the trend is to bring an outsider (Alice, John Carter, Harry Potter, Bilbo Baggins) and introduce him into th..."

I really have enjoyed the teaching/teacher aspect - when done well.


message 6: by MrsJoseph *grouchy*, *good karma* (new)

MrsJoseph *grouchy* (mrsjoseph) | 7282 comments Robert wrote: "MrsJoseph wrote: "Robert wrote: "Think John Carter, Alice in Wonderland, Buck Rodgers, or (everyone's favorite hated) Thomas Covenant."

There, fixed that for you."

Sorry, forgot to include the ..."



Awww man! We really do need sarcasm fonts.


message 7: by S.J. (new)

S.J. Lewis (sjlewis) | 469 comments Or at least:
Sarc on/Sarc off


message 8: by Jalilah (new)

Jalilah I definitely have a more "accessible/enjoyable" reading experience with the "normal" POV character.
That is why I often prefer Urban Fantasy, and have a hard time getting into a lot of Epic or High Fantasy (BTW what is the difference anyway?). I get more immersed in the story if I can somehow relate to the world and the characters. If the world seems too unreal and unbelievable to me, I get bored.


message 9: by Christopher (new)

Christopher Bunn | 15 comments MrsJoseph wrote: "Robert wrote: "Think John Carter, Alice in Wonderland, Buck Rodgers, or (everyone's favorite hated) Thomas Covenant."

There, fixed that for you."


Heh... I still want to slap him after all these years.


message 10: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 197 comments John Carter, etc. are examples of a person 'just like us' going to a strange place and figuring it out. LOTR has the hobbits, who although they are residents of Middle Earth have little or no experience with elves, orcs, Men, and so forth. So they are a version of the same thing.
You could argue that readers are more sophisticated these days, what with TV and movies and YouTube, and so they don't need a 'just like us' character to look through.


message 11: by Naiya (new)

Naiya | 13 comments Jalilah wrote: "...getting into a lot of Epic or High Fantasy (BTW what is the difference anyway?)."

No difference! They're synonymous. :)


message 12: by Traci (new)

Traci I consider "Epic Fantasy" a branch of what used to be called "Sword and Sorcery" or "Heroic Fantasy". Lots of fighting, magic, dragons, and good versus evil.

"High Fantasy" I think of books and series that are more drama driven, political, thought provoking.

Shrug. I might be wrong though. And certainly there are books that would cover both.


message 13: by Robert (new)

Robert Wright (rhwright) | 130 comments Traci wrote: "I consider "Epic Fantasy" a branch of what used to be called "Sword and Sorcery" or "Heroic Fantasy". Lots of fighting, magic, dragons, and good versus evil.

"High Fantasy" I think of books and se..."


Everyone has a slightly different take on it; mine is almost the opposite of Traci's.

For me, "high fantasy," is fantasy in grand style with all the trimmings--powerful, abundant magic; fantastic races and creatures (elves, goblines, et. al.), and clear good vs. evil morality.

"Epic fantasy," on the other hand, is, for me again, epic in scope, theme, cast of characters, and action. Big numbers fighting for big stakes.

It's possible to be one or the other or both.

LOTR, for me, would be epic high fantasy.
Game of Thrones (at least that book, I haven't read the others yet), I think of as just epic fantasy.

I can't think of an example of just high fantasy off the top of my head. It lends itself and blends very well with the epic. Maybe Wizard of Earthsea? Lots of magic, it has dragons, yet it's really one guy's struggle.


message 14: by Christopher (new)

Christopher Bunn | 15 comments Interesting difference between Traci and Robert. I find myself somewhere in the middle, but probably closer to Robert's pov. I think high fantasy has a distinct good vs evil morality, a carefully constructed worldview that acts as the foundation for the world and how the characters are motivated and driven within the world. I don't think that worldview necessarily is always articulated clearly in the story, but it's detectable and serves as the invisible engine.

Game of Thrones, for me, doesn't qualify simply due to the overall amoral nature of the story. There are individual threads and points of clear good vs evil in Martin's story, but they're the exception.

The Riddlemaster of Hed series kind of qualifies as high fantasy. Zero odd creatures, fairly limited geographical scope, restricted to two characters. Yet, there's a fairly well-defined good vs evil, or maybe it's good vs amoral anarchy?


message 15: by Traci (new)

Traci I looked it up online and I'm still very, very confused but it looks as though Robert and Christopher has a good grasp of what the difference is.
It seems 'Epic Fantasy', is wide and far reaching ideas, which makes sense in that we call movies with the same idea 'Epics'. It's the definition of 'High Fantasy' that throws me off though. It seems that is centered fantasy, more localized, and has more magic, dragons, etc...
So I guess A Game of Thrones would be Epic but what would be another good example of High, I saw Lord of the Rings mentioned, but to me that's Epic. I don't know.


message 16: by Olga (new)

Olga Godim (olgagodim) | 308 comments I think Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar series is pure High Fantasy. Sharon Shinn's Twelve Houses series - another example of High Fantasy. All of them are focused on a character, or a few of them, but not on the events/wars/invasions. Those are incidental, just a literary frame to showcase the characters.
As for the original question of this discussion: in my opinion, throwing a 'normal' person into an 'abnormal' world is a trick that pales quickly. It can't sustain a novel, much less a series. After a while, we all adjust to the new situations (humans are adjustable creatures) so the extraordinary world becomes familiar fast, and then the writer needs another interesting twist to keep the reader's attention. Why not discard the trick altogether and build a world and the heroes in it from scratch?
But the trick still attract. I have an idea for a new novel which would involve just such a situation.


message 17: by Naiya (new)

Naiya | 13 comments I'd say that the confusion surrounding which is which proves my earlier point. The two genres are functionally synonymous. The labeling becomes a matter of taste.


message 18: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 197 comments Or marketing. I agree that if we cannot point at it and agree on a name, the nomenclature is meaningless.


message 19: by Mina (new)

Mina Khan (spicebites) | 141 comments Olga wrote: "I think Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar series is pure High Fantasy. Sharon Shinn's Twelve Houses series - another example of High Fantasy. All of them are focused on a character, or a few of them, but ..."

LOL! I just thought of them as GOOD fantasy ;D...Sharon Shinn's 12 House Series and Carol Berg's Collegia Magica series are two of my favorites!

I wonder how N.K. Jemisin's works would be classified?


message 20: by Matt (new)

Matt Larkin (mattlarkin) | 13 comments I would have called High fantasy a subclass of epic fantasy, since low fantasy could also be epic (e.g. Song of Ice and Fire), and, indeed, other high magic settings don't fit the traditional concepts of "High Fantasy," such as Daniel Abraham's Long Price series--lots of magic and spirits, but Asian-flavor and no fantasy races or dragons or so forth.


message 21: by Mike (the Paladin) (last edited Oct 29, 2012 09:33AM) (new)

Mike (the Paladin) (thepaladin) | 5387 comments ...dropping back. I think a story has to be "realistic" within it's own world. A good writer creates a world and then builds within it.


message 22: by R.M.F. (new)

R.M.F. Brown | 72 comments Never been one for labels such as epic fantasy or high fantasy. I would argue that all works of fiction are 'fantasy' due to them being works of entertainment and escapism. But that would be pedantic!


message 23: by Scott (new)

Scott | 16 comments Hi,

It is a good observation and question. I enjoy both, but lately lean toward books were the main character finds out that they are more than they thought they were, or that the world is not as normal as they originally believed. That discovery process, if done well, is very interesting to me.

Now that I think about it, some of the epic fantasies create that "discovery" within the world they create. For example The Wheel of Time starts in the Two Rivers which is more or less a normal human world. Then the main characters suddenly have their "world view" expanded.

I recently read the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning, and enjoyed it because she stretched out that discovery process.


message 24: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 197 comments Note that the work itself dictates how it is told. It's not like you can get up in the morning and decide to write a John Carter on Mars type story but without John Carter; taking the earthman-visiting-Mars bit immediately makes the entire work different.


message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

Is it possible to do both? What I mean is a world that is fictional and magical (Westeros, Middle Earth) but the character does not know it. They would exist in a day to day routine and then discover the wonders of their world to set the story in motion.


message 26: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 197 comments That sounds like the plot of many a Diana Wynn Jones novel. Mundane characters discover that there is Secret Magic in their world.


Mike (the Paladin) (thepaladin) | 5387 comments Or in reverse that world is much more horrible, dangerous and frightening than they thought. Both have been done well.


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