Booked In: Chapter 7: Is This the Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy?

Open book

By Peri Miller

Ah, yes. Fantasy. What better way to start off a new semester than by finally delving into a discussion of my favourite genre? Although, to be completely honest, it isn’t my favourite because of just books. It’s a genre which lends itself to any and all mediums. It’s in its very nature to be versatile, the only limits are the creators’ and our own imaginations. My favourite application of the genre is actually video games, specifically open-world RPGs. Who doesn’t love running around a giant virtual map, getting distracted by side-quests, blasting foes with magic, and trapping innocent monsters in pocket-orbs to serve you for all eternity? One of the hallmarks of fantasy is the world in which the stories are set.

In books exists a spectrum of fantasy sub-genres. On one end is high fantasy, set in an entirely fictional world. The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire are such examples. On the other end is contemporary fantasy, set at least partially in the ‘real world’, but featuring, for instance, another side to the mundane world, which the general populace aren’t aware of. Paragons include the ubiquitous Harry Potter, and Rick Riordan’s mythologically-inspired Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus, and more.

Notably, most fantasy books are part of a series. That is to say, I can’t think of a single fantasy book that isn’t part of a greater story. Some fantasy series even become franchises—A Song of Ice and Fire is the strongest example of one such, better known by its television title, Game of Thrones.

The idea of franchise closely links to the guiding principle of fantasy: that of another world. Game of Thrones found international acclaim as a television series, and from this popularity came franchising and merchandising: spin-off and prequel novellas, a comic book adaptation, card games, board games, and multiple video games (at least one of which is actually pretty decent). Casual fans might only be interested in the books or television show, but more dedicated fans can gain a larger understanding and greater overall experience not just of the characters and story, but of the world of Westeros and Essos.

That’s not to say that all fantasy series are franchises, just that they lend themselves well to the notion. There are many brilliant fantasy series that haven’t quite broken the confines of ink and binding, and it suits them just fine. To finish off by recommending a few:

  • Dianna Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci Charmed Life is the first, and though it’s aimed towards a younger audience, it holds up as a long-time favourite and brilliant fantasy novel. Features parallel worlds (including our own) and nine-lifed enchanters.
  • A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab. A contemporary fantasy in which there are four different worlds (again, including our own). The main character is one of the only people able to traverse between these worlds, and keeps up an inter-dimensional smuggling business alongside his duties to the crown.
  • Prince of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence. The main character of this dark trilogy is an anti-hero in the truest sense, but that’s part of what makes it interesting — you end up rooting for him anyway.
  • Lynn Flewelling’s societal convention-breaking Nightrunner. There are seven books, and I’ve read four, but the first two hold together as a complete narrative. Starts off as your typical “teenage boy meets a new mentor and tumbles into a new life,” and turns into so much more.

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