Perhaps more than any other genre, Fantasy has its roots in nostalgia, in a yearning for a past that never was, a lost world that cannot possibly exist. It’s roots lay in the old myths of the past, in the tales of King Arthur and Siegfried, the stories of the Olympian gods, of heroes and villains played out across a legendary landscape that speaks to something fundamental in human nature.
Nostalgia: pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again. Although in the case of fantasy, it might be updates to something from that that never existed, but you kind of wish had. Rooted in a heroic past, at odds with the present, who hasn’t at one point or another wished they could escape the dullness of modernity, to become if only for a moment the hero of the story, slaying our own personal dragons?
This foundation in nostalgia has both its benefits and its drawbacks, but it is one of the things that makes the genre what it is. It gives the genre its escapist nature while allowing for the creation for a world fundamentally different from our own, where paradoxically the problems of our world can be looked at from a new angle. Yet it can also be limiting, for when were to greatly reverence the past it limits what kind of stories we can write and how that can turn out. Some of the best stories are the ones that embrace a subversive nostalgia, once that embraces the flaws as well as the triumphs, and turns them so that one takes the place of the other.
For better or worse, this tendency was laid into the genre at the beginning. Perhaps no one shows better than the two men who more than anyone could claim to be the fathers of the fantasy genre as its exists now; JRR Tolkien and Robert E. Howard. Both were men from very different worlds, shaped by experiences that were very much at odds. Tolkien, the tweedy Oxford Don, Howard the hardscrabble writer from Texas. Yet they had this one thing in common; faced with the problems of their present day, they looked to the past for inspiration. The next few blog posts will explore this theme, so keep an eye on your inbox!