Fantasy – a Heady Cocktail of History and Myth

‘Okay, define fantasy’ – someone once said. ‘Where does it evolve from and what are its sources? And why is this genre so popular?’ The answer lies deep within our own subconscious, like the monster lurking beneath the sleepless child’s bed. It’s that weird little voice hinting who we are, featuring in our dreams; kidnapping whimsical thoughts whilst we cruise the interstate, listening to hard rock – or maybe classic FM. Imagination is a big part of it, and a love of stories. But it’s much more than that.

Fantasy is as old as mankind. The dreamer in us occupies half our life. Even the most pragmatic individual has cause to wonder when hit by a sudden wash of Deja Vu. The dark side of the moon. Why are we here? Think of cave paintings. Sure, they were based on animals those primal folk saw every day. But you can imagine as they painted those amazing images there were magical stories unfolding alongside. Fireside tales – the flames teasing surreal life into that flickering prehistoric art. Nothing fundamental inside us has changed – we are who we are. That said, the more structured our lives become the more we need escape. Two of my favorite authors, J.R.R. Tolkien and Mervyn Peake, endured the trenches of the First World War. It’s small wonder those incredible imaginations created Middle Earth and Gormenghast, if only to make sense of the pointless carnage surrounding them.

like Tolkien, I have a passion for Norse and Celtic myth. The Mabinogion (or Mabinogi – a series of tales from old Welsh mythology,) features the most amazing stories, brought to life in particular by Evangeline Walton’s version. Tolkien’s Silmarillion, and Poul Anderson’s Hrolf Kraki’s Saga are other examples of how myth, heroism, and grandeur can inspire the imagination to higher levels. But it’s a question of balance. I also have a deep rooted interest in history. One of G.R.R. Martin’s base blocks for Game of Thrones was the Wars of the Roses – a series of brutal civil wars raging through England at the eve of the Middle Ages. Martin’s style, like Joe Abercrombie’s, is gritty and darkly addictive. Set against that realism you have the dreamy forest of Tantrevalles, which features a lot in Jack Vance’s Lyonesse trilogy – another must read for any fantasy avid. Lyonesse gets under the skin, allowing the dreamer inside to escape. Fantasy encompasses both history and myth. It hints at who we are and takes us to places far out of our daily grind. Fantasy is magic, it fuses dream with possibility.

Much of fantasy’s current popularity is due to big screen and small screen: The Hobbit, Harry Potter, Star Wars, X-Men, G.O.T and The Hunger Games, etc, etc. etc. Whether your gig is werewolves, vampires, Hobbits – or crazy arse ‘Spiders from Mars’ dudes in flashing silver suits. Fantasy has it. One of the best depictions of how fantasy worlds coexist with the every day is in the movie, Pan’s labyrinth. Our heroine – an exiled princess in her mentor, the faun’s world – has to deal with the very real horrors of The Spanish Civil War, whilst otherworldly creatures of nightmare wait inside the labyrinth.

Whether fantasy is your thing or not, it’s here to stay. As long as we sit by the fireside and natter. Whilst there are stories and storytellers left living. And as long as the tangled human brain allows room for its creative side. ‘May the Force be with you too!’

Next weeks blog features Barin the Axeman, one of the badly behaved cast from the Legends of Ansu series. The Kraken sketch above is one of the many wonderful drawings created for me by Tolkien artist, Roger Garland of http://lakeside-gallery.com. That’s all for today! Sleep well – my lovers. But keep that light on lest you dream! J.W.W.

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