Friday, January 11, 2013

Genre Savvy: High Fantasy

Last week, after I wrote the original Genre Savvy article but before it was published, I finally got to see The Hobbit.  I went with my sister who knows far, FAR more about Tolkien mythology than any sane person should.  She liked it, a lot, but could easily point out the parts that were not in the book, or even Tolkien's work in the first place.  It still worked regardless, and didn't feel shoehorned in as many book adaptations do.  So it's only fitting we now cover High Fantasy.

As I said in the introduction article, High Fantasy finds it's roots in Tolkien.  Dwarves, Elves, Orcs, wizards, etc, etc, all have their definition coming from Tolkien's work.  Why do wizards wear pointed hats?  Dwarves all live underground, why?  How come Elves are always so attached to nature?  Why is it that Orcs are evil?  Tolkien is the answer.

Sadly, this means Tolkien's work often becomes a template for less creative writers and artists to lay down their own stories.  There's nothing WRONG with this, of course, Dungeons and Dragons made a business of doing this kind of thing, with their own Tolkienesce universe.  At the same time, it does seem to lack the important point of High Fantasy.

It's not about Elves and Dwarves and Orcs.  It's not about magic and adventure.  Hell, good High Fantasy isn't about the STORY at all.  It's about the world, it's history and culture (or cultures as the case may be).

This is what makes Tolkien's work so powerful.  His stories are really about entertaining his kids (the Hobbit especially).  The WORLD he created, though, was partly designed to showcase the languages he was inventing, amongst other things.  He built up a mythology and history bit by bit, showing how the world came to be as it is at the time in the story.

That's something a lot of works that claim to be High Fantasy fail, they don't build their world very well.  Or at all.  History is essential, without it any story built in this genre comes off as hollow and wholly lacking.  Pull it off, though, and a great piece of fiction can come from it.

Which brings me to the comic that most exemplifies the High Fantasy genre.  It should be pretty obvious that Errant Story is that comic.  History flows through this comic, not only due to the main plot point, looking for ancient supreme power, but through every action taken by both protagonists and antagonists.  Here's the funny thing though, as Poe reposts each page of the comic, a clearer view of how the comic developed, and the history was NOT done before the comic started going.  Like any good work, the history evolved as the comic did.  Allowing wiggle room to grow is probably what made Errant Story so damn great in the end.

But there is another comic out there that fits this model:  Prophecy of the Circle.  I haven't been following this comic since I did the original review, but it was obvious from the get go it was a High Fantasy comic.  I mean, look at this page.  That's history, culture, the world all there and ready for the taking.  And not an elf, dwarf, orc or wizard in sight.  Hell, there aren't any HUMANS in this comic, yet it is a High Fantasy comic.

High Fantasy is a very past oriented genre and not having a past or history is where a piece will fail to live up to it's standard.

Next week kids, Urban Fantasy.  See you then kiddies.

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