What Does Your World Do For a Living?

There’s quite a lot of fuss in fantasy fandoms about “high” and “low” fantasy, with a great deal of time and trouble going into working out exactly what high fantasy or low fantasy is, and their various characteristics.

The Full Fantasy Genre Menu. Would you like some additional Character Peril with that, or maybe some Tired Stereotypes on the side?

One of the bigger themes in this debate this that high fantasy is world-changing, while low fantasy is not. But I’d disagree  with this; while the perfect good guys (and guys it does tend to be) may stop the bad guys/prop up the status quo and  get their reward, the world seems to kind of trundle on in the background, without much to say either way. There are perfectly valid complaints that much high fantasy is elitist, but that isn’t my main bugbear with it at present. I sometimes read and think “so what would happen if they were to fail?”, and don’t get much of an idea. The plots of many stories, even the highest of high fantasy, are somewhat immaterial to the world that gets created. Sure, some nations will change, and maybe some powerful magic will be unleashed, but why is that particularly interesting? Fantasy isn’t known for its unique political structures and magic and bad guys isn’t particularly new, so I’d much rather read about some well-written characters in a less earth-shattering novel. This is why, for example, I prefer A Song of Ice and Fire to the Belgariad. The latter has mythic figures walking with the main character trying to retrieve an object of earth-shattering potency, but the only outcome I could discern from this would be that the bad guy wins; the latter shows you the personal stakes of each of the characters in the political conflicts, which makes it much more interesting.

But what really gets me hooked is the whys of the world, the metaphysics and how that relates to the plot. I just fail to see the point in much fantasy where it’s just kings and politics, or even just kings and dragons. Tell me why dragons are possible and part of the ecosystem and things get mildly interesting. Tell me that dragons are manifestations of a god that is splintered in various ways and at war with itself, and you’ve got my attention in a whole manner of ways. I guess where I’m going with this is that fantasy worlds need to be more fantastical, much more different to the pseduo-medieval European setting which inspires most of it, and making the metaphysics of the world part of the plot of any given story is a fairly simple way to do that.

And in a related bit of shameless self-promotion, I’m going to upload a second story of creation and apocalypse for Mists of Albion. I envisioned it somewhat as the book of Genesis and Revelation for one of the major faiths of the world, as I’ve been doing a lot of reading into the various gnostic heresies of Christianity recently and I really like the alternative spins on the “standard” template we get these days about Mediæval Christianity. I’ll possibly delve into some serious discussion of these at a later date, simply because I find them really intriguing and a potential source of ideas for world creation that fall outside the usual realms of thought in this area.

In the meantime, please read my latest contribution to the Mists setting. Let me know what you think!

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About CrucibleofWords

I'm always interested in the birth and expression of new ideas, from world creation to philosophical and metaphysical exploration. Fantasy and its related genres are the perfect vehicle for this sort of thing, and I intend to explore it various ways with this blog, both through positing my own ideas, and reflection on that of others.
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2 Responses to What Does Your World Do For a Living?

  1. ka says:

    You’d like Kulthea. The creators of that world actually asked “so what changes geopolitically if we’ve got roving monsters?”

  2. Great article. Love the hilarious chart.

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