Fantastic Wonder is a series of Fantasy related posts where I discuss different aspects of the genre and the many tropes and plot lines associated with it. Today, I talk about fantasy worlds and what makes them so memorable.
Fantastic Wonder: What Makes a Fantasy World Memorable?
So in my previous review, I discussed lightly what I look for in a fantasy world. I praised The Rise of the Red Harbinger for its mythology. While I was going to discuss something else, I figured I’d spend time discussing what I look for in a memorable fantasy world and essentially what Fantasy means to me. Now, anyone can see fantasy in a different way, so this is more opinion than anything else. You might feel differently, and that’s fine.
But I have personal thoughts on my ideal fantasy world and many of my future works reflect on that. So this is just a small piece of what I look for in a fantasy world.
Myths and Legends
The mythology is by far the most important aspect of the world. It can easily be inspired by our mythology, but I love it when the myth interacts with the mortal world in some fashion. I love how Greek mythology, in some stories, shows the gods and goddesses interacting with the heroes. It adds to the world and makes it special.
But what kinds of myths are special? Well, it’s hard to name a few examples. But as a general idea, I want to see a world where the myth isn’t in the background. It’s not that big of a deal otherwise. In our world, God is a mysterious being that we have no idea for certain exists. I personally don’t believe in God, but some people do. And he operates in the background while we go about our lives. Some people say God takes control of fate for others and guides them in the right direction. In regards to a fantasy story, I like it when mortals interact with their creators in some fashion. It adds depth to the world, whether it’s a monotheistic or polytheistic society.
This extends to the mythical creatures as well. Dragons, faeries, griffins, any of that. I want them to be more than animals and show their myth status. Interaction with mythology is what separates our society from the world of the fantasy. It’s what makes me wish our world was like that.
Races are another thing. You know the kinds. Elves, dwarves, gnomes, and orcs. Dungeons and Dragons and Tolkien and the like popularized them and nearly every fantasy series has incorporated them at some point to the point of cliche. They’re the same kinds as well. Elves are pompous know-it-alls, dwarves are drunk and have a Scottish accent and orcs are hulking and stupid.
A lot of these are seen in pop culture all the time, and it’s the usual fantasy archetypes. Now, if done differently, I don’t have too much of an issue seeing them in other stories, but they have to bring something new to the table, otherwise, it’s following the same old stuff.
There are also races based on animals. Wolfmen, lizard men, and all that. Anthropomorphic characters are also common. What’s rare is a wholly unique fantasy race. Something that no one had done before. I’m not sure if people think it wouldn’t be recognizable, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a fantasy race that’s unique to the author and not based on humans. You could get into the whole “too sci-fi-ish” route, but these can be done well.
A show called One Piece, about a boy named Luffy who seeks to become King of the Pirates and seek a legendary treasure thought to be a myth, has a race of beings called Fishmen (known as Gyojin in Japanese). They can exist on both land and sea and see themselves as superior to humans. The world is covered in water and many of the characters possess powers that force them to avoid the sea, even though that hasn’t stopped any of them from doing it anyway.
I’d like to see more of that. Just unique races to bring something new to the fantasy world. Or perhaps take an existing race and make it into something else. In Game of Thrones, dwarf is a derogatory term for a character like Tyrion Lannister, who is smaller than average. Also, Guild Wars has a race known as Asura, a short, alien-like race that’s probably the most unique I’ve seen so far. The Sylvari, likewise, are plant-people.
I like Guild Wars because it doesn’t follow the typical fantasy archetype and has these new races to fight against the norm. I’d like to see more examples of that, rather than stick to the normal. Either make a new race or take an existing one and shake it up a little. I try to figure things out with my own worlds and have new spins on races all the time.
Does it have to be medieval?
Doesn’t have to be. I think we go to medieval because it’s a unique environment. It’s an era we haven’t seen before and likely will never see again. Kings, queens, swords, myths, and legends. Sure, I’d do without all the authoritativeness, the peasantry, and the plagues and all of that, but we don’t have to go that far.
Same goes for modern fantasy. I love having a fantasy setting with tech and set in the present day. Pokémon is a good example of modern fantasy done right. It’s got all of the fantasy workings in a somewhat modern setting with advanced technology to capture the native creatures and do battle with them.
But can both happen? A medieval setting with advanced technology? Sometimes. Games like Final Fantasy, especially in recent years, can go too far with that, and Warcraft sometimes can go this far as well. That’s not to say it can’t be done. It also adds flavor to the typical medieval setting and maybe humans aren’t the advanced ones. Maybe another race or even a race from ancient times. Ancient Tech is an interesting concept and I’d love to see it explored more.
The thing that irks me about some fantasy worlds is sometimes it’s not truly mystical. Some of what I’ve seen tends to be “It’s medieval England, except when it’s not.” Now I haven’t read a ton of fantasy novels to have that mentality, but Game of Thrones seems to have this issue. Aside from Dragons, what else is there?
The story can be good in spite of that, and I’m not knocking GoT because of that. It’s a well-written story, but I love the mystical aspect of it. What separates historical fact from whimsical fiction. I point myself as a fan of the strange and whimsical follies of the impossible. It’s the stories I like because it’s not the norm. Yet it feels real and is something I’d wish our world had. Some parts of our world are neat, but I want adventure. And speaking of…
This is why I love reading Fantasy stories. The journey and exploration. I love to see a few people travel across the world, fighting against some villain or supernatural force and not stay in one remote place all the time. If the author has a massive world, I’d love to see more of it. A lot of RPG I love because of the world itself.Exploring it is a wonderful feeling and it’s what I love about fantasy.
It doesn’t have to be a band of merry men, but I do want to see the world through the eyes of the protagonist. As well as the hero getting into danger at every turn. This is perhaps the most important aspect of any fantasy world. I want to know more about the world and how the characters interact with it and I want to see a journey. Most of my childhood, I wanted to go on an adventure, see the world and interact with life. Embark on some mission to save the world. While I can’t do that in real life, I can do that in my worlds.
So that’s what I look for in Fantasy settings. What do you think? What are the things you look for? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
That’s all for today. Take care, and remember, the inn is always open.
Got any suggestions for future topics and reviews? Hit me up on my social media channels and let me know your thoughts. I always read the feedback, even if I don’t respond, and every reply counts.