Fantasy Literature Project – Part 1


This is something I’ve been working on with one of my English Literature professors, Erin G. Carlston (, over the past semester at the University of Auckland and I figured I would submit the fucker thing in instalments because of its size.

Fantasy literature is one of my favourite genres to delve into and lose myself for a while so this project was extremely personal to me.

Let me know if you dig it and I’ll upload more.

Voilà, the intro:

Grumkins and Snarks: 

A discussion of contemporary fantasy writers’ strategies for world-building

  1. Fantasy: the ‘wilderness’ of possibility

According to author and literary genius Ursula Le Guin, the fantasy genre is ‘a real wilderness, and those who go there should not feel too safe’.[1] Le Guin refers to the potential dangers of the genre in the sense of the subject matter, the reading experience, and the writing process of a fantasy text. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘fantasy’ as ‘imagination’ or ‘the process or faculty of forming mental representations of things not actually present’.[2] Yet this notion of imaginative literature is not unique to fantasy because it also applies to other literary genres. What differentiates fantasy from other genres is that the possibilities of the subject matter are unlimited. Like most genre fiction, fantasy allows the reader to escape reality for a while, yet, unlike other genres, it is highly unconventional. Of course, there are certain symbols that a lot of fantasy authors tend to use in their texts, such as medievalism, magical elements, and mythical creatures, but the strength of the genre resides in its openness. Fantasy is one of the least conventional genres because it does not have to conform to any tropes. In fact, some of the best fantasy literature does not conform to any tropes at all. For instance, in The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien depicts the dragon, Smaug, as a formidable creature with evil motives, much like in European folklore. By contrast, Anne McAffrey portrays dragons in the Dragonriders of Pern series as friendly genetically-modified creatures. In the A Song of Ice and Fire series, George R.R. Martin’s dragons are particularly interesting because they bear similarities to weapons of mass destruction in the sense that whoever wields them has the most power. Essentially, a fantasy text need not adhere to any rubric.

New authors create new sub-genres and the wider fantasy genre evolves and changes constantly. One author may write in the tradition of epic fantasy, known for its dichotomy of ‘good’ versus ‘evil’, whereas another may situate his text in the realms of urban fantasy in a world much like our own but with magic. The ‘danger’ of the reading experience is that the reader should be wary and not have expectations as to what a fantasy text should be or do. When reading fantasy, the reader suspends her imagination and is at the mercy of that of the author. This is the ‘wilderness’ of the fantasy genre because each time a reader opens the pages of a fantasy text, anything could be contained within. I would like to think of myself as relatively well-read when it comes to fantasy, except each new text that I pick up challenges any preconceptions I have for the genre. I once thought that there must be dragons in a fantasy text but then I came across Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, a text about a group of con-artists and thieves in an alternate Venice-like world without a dragon in sight. I also believed that fantasy characters should speak differently from ourselves, yet Richard Morgan’s The Steel Remains proved me wrong with his modern profanities and dialogue. The danger lies in classifying this hybrid genre as if it should be anything at all. To say fantasy is this or that simplifies and reduces the possibilities of this imaginative literary genre.

2. Blurring the lines

The main condition of the fantasy genre is the creation of fantastical and imaginative worlds. Anything is possible in these worlds and the author is God, controlling what he includes. Le Guin states that a fantasy author is a ‘guide’ because he takes the reader on a journey into his mind’s creation, pulling her further into his created world.[3] It is interesting to consider what an author includes and excludes from the present world in the created world because any similarity is noticeable and draws the attention of the reader. Perhaps the characters are humanoid in appearance or the created world resembles Northern Europe. Much like how travel broadens the mind, by spending some time in these alternate worlds, one learns something more profound about the present world. The inherent ‘danger’ of fantasy is that what one learns may be hard to digest. For instance, an alternate world that appears to be vastly different, such as Kameron Hurley’s Raisa in The Mirror Empire, may turn out to be not dissimilar to our own. Hurley investigates the political movements between characters in that the oppressed people in one universe oppress other people in another parallel universe. Hurley stresses the notion that, given the opportunity, each character would manipulate and exploit others for her own gain. Perhaps Hurley shows the reader an example of human corruptibility or maybe she exposes something frightening about the human experience such as the extent someone will go to fulfil her desires. In short, these worlds provide more than a simple escape route from reality for a few hours.

Thanks to online forums such as Reddit and websites such as GoodReads allowing fantasy readers to recommend texts to each other, fantasy is no longer a niche genre relegated to the dusty corner of a bookstore. Yet, with the increased popularity of fantasy, there also comes a demand for new and inventive forms of fantasy literature. This raises the question as to how much overlapping is permitted across genres. For instance, Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara is a murder mystery set in a fantasy world. So, should it be classified as detective fiction or fantasy? Hurley’s text includes parallel universes and Connie Willis’ Doomsday contains time travel. So, are these texts science-fiction or fantasy? Science fiction novels normally portray a future version, or vision, of the present world whereas the created worlds of the fantasy genre often mirror that of the past. While fantasy novels often contain magic, castles and palaces, science fiction texts usually display advanced technology and hyper-industrialisation. This is already a difficult question because the lines between fantasy and science-fiction literature are blurred anyway. With all the freedom in the genre, it may be dangerous territory for a fantasy author if he cannot find his place among his peers.

3. Goals / Corpus of texts

Over the course of this essay, I will discuss the world-building strategies of several contemporary fantasy writers. Within this broad topic, I want to consider the immersive settings of these texts because this is the base structure of a created world. I am going to examine maps, how the author introduces his setting and the type of setting itself to see how the author establishes his created world. I would like to touch upon the nature of heroism and what it means to be a hero or heroine within the contemporary fantasy genre. I will examine the protagonists and primary characters within the texts to see if there is a commonality amongst them. I would like to also consider the form and narrative techniques that contemporary fantasy authors use to convey their enchanting worlds. Within this section, I want to examine how the use of language and dialogue adds colour to the created world. I am going to touch upon how the author structures his text to improve the reading experience. I will look at how character perspective gives nuanced qualities to the respective worlds of the authors.

In this essay, all the texts to which I refer contain various degrees of danger. Danger is intrinsically linked to the narratives of great contemporary fantasy literature because the backdrop of potential war or violence allows the author’s world-building to shine. The threat of danger gives the characters a reason to navigate the created world to escape from danger or to defeat its source. In a sense, the reader experiences the danger vicariously through the characters in the text.

The texts that I will use to furnish my argument are A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan, The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells, Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan, and The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley. These texts reflect the current state of contemporary fantasy and provide a balanced illustration of the different types of fantasy across the spectrum of the genre. Although many of these texts belong to trilogies or sagas, I will use the first novel in each series, because that is where the author must work the hardest to establish the setting, build his world and convince his readers to read the next novel.

[1] Ursula Le Guin, From Elfland to Poughkeepsie (Portland: Pendragon Press, 1973), 4.

[2] Oxford English Dictionary, “fantasy | phantasy, n.”, OED Online, accessed March 26, 2017,

[3] Le Guin, 4.


Voila part 4 (and final part)! Hope you enjoy! Link to part 1 – ( Link to part 2 – ( Link to part 3

Part 3: Form/Style


i. On language and dialogue

Le Guin posits that style is important to fantasy literature because it marks a text as belonging to the genre. She describes a good fantasy writer as an ‘artist…who goes on learning after he grows up’. This ‘learning’ is the ability to ‘see his own world and speak his own words’.[1] Although I agree entirely with Le Guin’s suggestion, she comments upon earlier fantasy texts so it is important to note that the fantasy genre has changed significantly since the writing of her essay. Today, there are copious sub-genres within the fantasy genre, further enlarging the definition of ‘fantasy’ as new authors quest for a place within the realms of fantasy. Yet, despite these changes, style remains an integral aspect of the creation of a fantasy text. Le Guin suggests that a fantasy author’s unique style resonates through his prose and textual construction. She argues that ‘if you remove the style [of a fantasy text], all you have left is a synopsis of the plot’.[2] A fantasy author’s unique style makes his world come alive and is his own sense of identity within the genre. Essentially, style is everything an author uses in his text to successfully convey his created world to the reader. I have chosen to focus upon how fantasy authors use language and dialogue, structure, and character perspective to express the story.

Writers across the myriad literary genres use descriptive language to illustrate their worlds. In the fantasy genre, the worlds often need more description than a text depicting the contemporary world because they are invented, therefore significantly different from the present world. Regarding Hurley’s text, I would like to pay close attention to the language of a passage from the prologue in which Hurley first presents the world of Grania. ‘The pale green light of the satellite Tira bathed the world in a burnished emerald glow. The broader sky was a brilliant amber wash. It was the only colour Lilia knew the sky to be. Tira, the lifegiver, had been ascendant as long as she could remember’.[3] From this description alone, this world is very different to ours. A moon glows with an eerie verdant luminescence whilst giving power, or ‘life’, to certain characters, and the rest of the sky is amber. Hurley suggests to the reader that Lilia is habituated to this view of the world. So how does a reader who is unfamiliar with this vision imagine the world she is reading? From the outset, Hurley plays with the relationship between inference and showing, rather than telling, the story to the reader. Instead of explaining everything, Hurley shows how her world functions and the reader infers the rest. For instance, Hurley never explicitly describes the Dhai people but the reader infers that they are humanoid tree-dwellers when Lilia is horrified to see the burning wreckage of the tree-cocoons where her people lived.[4] Hurley also portrays a cannibalistic funeral ceremony with the dignity and respect with which people in the present world would portray a burial.[5] Hurley drops the reader into the action of the text with no prior explanation of the world. Instead, Hurley explains her world vicariously through the characters navigating and exploring it.

Dialogue in fantasy should be different from that of the present world because a fantasy text should have otherworldly qualities; this is reflected in character interaction. In Crescent Moon, Ahmed’s characters interact by using fictitious religious language peppered with oaths, curses and quotes from scripture. Religious language is grand and a manner of speaking unfamiliar to the contemporary world. For instance, characters in the Crescent Moon Kingdoms ‘cheek-kiss and gods-peace each other’, a common greeting of intimacy combined with religious identity.[6] They regularly quote scripture to each other, often in the form of advice like ‘if a man asks you to choose between virtue and your brother, choose virtue’.[7] When Adoulla is hungry he tells his apprentice, Raseed, that ‘a starving man builds no palaces’.[8] In this situation, Adoulla manipulates scripture to respond to natural human calls of his own and to justify his gluttonous actions. The delivery is reminiscent of how a person in the present world uses language to get what he wants, yet the register is foreign. But does this overlapping of the present world and ‘fantasyland’ come at a price?

Morgan opts for contemporary dialogue in Steel. He uses slang, swearwords, contractions and informal dialogue that would not be out of place in an everyday conversation between people in the present world. Morgan’s characters often use similes and metaphors from the world of the text such as the curses ‘for Hoiran’s sake’ or ‘Hoiran’s cock’, a reference to a fictional deity within the text.[9] When Ringil’s mother finds the hungover protagonist in a small backward town outside of the Glades she tells him that ‘there’s more red in [your eyes] than the crater at An-Monal’, likening his bloodshot eyes to a fictional post-war wasteland.[10] These intra-textual elements add a sense of realism to Morgan’s world. Another example of this is when Milacar tells the ‘backstory’ of Trelayne, which is then revealed to be a tall tale, further removing the veil from this fantasy world and giving the impression that not everything can be taken at face value.[11] In a sense, Morgan inverts one of the motivations for reading fantasy; rather than wanting to escape the troubles of the present world for a moment, instead, Morgan shows this other world as being dark, dangerous and filthy, which is reflected in the complete lack of grandeur in the dialogue. For Morgan, ‘fantasyland’ is not an elegant and wondrous place in which to escape; it is more likely that one would want to escape from it.

ii. On structure

Not only should a fantasy author be a cunning linguist, he should also be a master mason when it comes to the construction of his text. It is important to consider how an author structures his text because it can have a considerable impact upon its reception. In NotW, Rothfuss experiments with interesting methods of constructing his narrative because it is essentially a story about a story. For instance, in the linear frame narrative of Kvothe tending the Waystone inn, Chronicler suggests he should record Kvothe’s story. Before Kvothe tells his story, he muses upon where to start, effectively brainstorming, foreshadowing some major events, creating a basic plan before centralising the entire story upon himself and, thus, focalising the narrative.[12] The text then swiftly switches to Kvothe’s telling of his story, the inset narrative, interspersed with interludes every time he pauses in his storytelling, frequently moving between past and present.

The tone of the storytelling is that of the campfire, a long descriptive yarn that draws the listener in. This sort of story is exciting and thrilling but the listener is safe in the knowledge that he is not in the same environment as the story because ‘certainly, there were demons in the world but…they belonged in stories’.[13] Interestingly, patterns begin to emerge. Within each chapter in which Kvothe tells his story, he initially gathers his thoughts ‘out-loud’ before telling the tale of a particular event. In this structural model, Kvothe relates, firstly, some background information and then describes the event itself before summing up with some reflections. Rothfuss has clearly paid close attention to his grandfather’s fireside tales or listened to old salts in local bars tell ‘war stories’ to gain inspiration. Rothfuss converts the oral into the literary by incorporating oral storytelling techniques into the presentation of how Kvothe tells his story. The function of this narrative technique is to give authenticity to a text in which the main character recounts his own tale. This technique makes it seem that the author is Kvothe rather than Patrick Rothfuss.

The contrast between dangerous past and relatively safe present becomes increasingly blurred as both narratives intertwine. The danger of Kvothe’s past eventually catches up to him, moving from the confines of the past inset narrative and bleeding into the present-day frame narrative when the patrons of the Waystone Inn are attacked by a demon.[14] The technique of the campfire-yarn style of storytelling lulls the reader into believing she is safe, which makes the danger become more shocking because now the reader does not know what to expect next. Like a ghost story around a campfire being abruptly cut short by the appearance of the very same ghost, this breaks the false sense of security and the reader is on edge for the rest of the text.

The ending of NotW mirrors the beginning with the exposition of the Waystone Inn at night under a ‘silence of three parts’.[15] Narrative mirroring is often linked to film but, given that Rothfuss’ text contains narrative techniques reminiscent of oral storytelling, it is not surprising that he chose to use it. In film, this structural technique allows the viewer to see how much a character has grown since the beginning because the mirrored end sequence reminds the viewer of the character’s initial presentation. Yet when it comes to Kvothe, the more he reveals about his past, the more his inner demons trouble him. Instead of positive progression, it seems as if he narrates his own regression because the ending hints at further inner turmoil.

Some fantasy novels are divided into solid episodic breaks with significant time jumps between each one, whereas other texts follow the perspective of different characters over the course of a linear narrative. In Brennan’s novel, A Natural History, the chapter divisions are further divided into sub-divisions that foreshadow the ensuing events of the narrative. These chapter divisions detail each narrative event, perhaps a reference to the epistolary format of the text. For instance, in chapter twenty-three, one of the subdivisions is entitled ‘More answers there, Many of them unpleasant/The arrival of the dragons’.[16] This structural format is interesting because Brennan inverts the foreshadowing of the text. Foreshadowing is supposed to hint at what is to come before the later event is shown as a revelation to the reader. The preface of the text warns the reader to ‘continue at [her] own risk. It is not for the faint of heart’.[17] Yet, contrary to the disclaimer, entitling each event in such a way is a ‘spoiler’ for what is to come, effectively removing the shock of the danger.

Just as in Rothfuss’ text, the end of Brennan’s novel mirrors the start and comes full circle when Isabella picks up her copy of the fictional text ‘A natural history of dragons’ exactly as her child-self did at the start of the novel.[18] Ending on a more positive note than Rothfuss’ novel, this structure offers a glimpse into how the character of Isabella has transformed from a timid girl with unconventional interests into a brave and intelligent young woman. The mirroring of the beginning and ending contrasts Isabella’s future with her past because, unlike at the beginning where she had to hide her obsession with dragons, she appears optimistic about her future thanks to her budding career as a dragon naturalist.


iii. On perspective

Perspective allows the reader to see the world from the point of view of a particular character, whilst also giving an insight into characters’ anxieties, thoughts or wishes. The multiperspectival text, GOT, is interesting because each chapter is focused through the perspective of a different character, which stresses the importance of subjectivity. One character may see another as honourable but another character may think differently. On the one hand, Stannis Baratheon has no love for Eddard Stark but believes that ‘only a fool would doubt his honour or his honesty’.[19] Yet Littlefinger scorns Stark’s naivety, claiming that his honour does not ‘keep [Stark] safe, all it does is weigh [him] down and make it hard for [him] to move’.[20] There is also a strong relationship between structure and perspective in that an event may occur in one focus chapter from one character’s perspective, and then in the next chapter there will be a presentation from another side of the story. For instance, Stark believes that exposing the truth about the illegitimacy of the heirs to the Iron Throne is the right thing to do.[21] When Stark is lying in a prison cell in a later chapter, Varys explains that honesty and honour have not done him any favours.[22] Multiple perspectives on the same event from a variety of sources show how different people respond to a situation which leaves it open for the reader to decide what was the best course of action.

The various perspectives also influence character presentation. Many of the characters in the text describe Tyrion in a negative light, partly due to his appearance. For instance, Jon describes him as ‘by far the ugliest out of Lord Tywin’s brood’ and Sansa views him as ‘grotesque’ and ‘sinister’.[23] Regarding his character, Lysa Arryn describes him as being ‘full of low cunning’ and a ‘vile dwarf’.[24] Yet, when it comes to his focus chapters, he comes across as intelligent, shrewd and undeniably likeable. It seems that opinions towards specific characters can be changed when Martin reveals more about them or we see the characters from a different perspective. The kings and political mavericks like Littlefinger or Varys do not have perspective chapters, so their presentation comes funnelled through the eyes of others. By limiting the narrative focus to specific characters, Martin manages to keep schemes secret and surprising, as when Littlefinger suddenly betrays Stark.[25] Martin also maintains a sense of objectivity surrounding the kings. For instance, he presents Robb Stark’s maturity into the ‘King in the North’ through Robb’s mother’s perspective chapters, and most of the close-up presentation of King Robert Baratheon comes from Eddard’s perspective.[26] The reader’s gaze is also limited to what the character sees. For instance, Stark’s death is never explicitly described because Yoren forces Arya to look away and then Sansa chooses to ‘unsee’ her father’s severed head on the battlements of the Red Keep.[27] The restriction of certain perspectives has an impact upon how the reader digests the story. Reading GOT is not a passive experience because the reader is encouraged to think more for herself and to speculate on the subject of plot revelations which makes reading Martin’s text that much more rewarding when these plot predictions come true.

In Wells’ mono-perspectival text, The Cloud Roads, the sole perspective comes from the protagonist, Moon. Wells presents only Moon’s immediate thoughts which adds to the feeling of being engulfed by Moon’s anxieties and his own desire to figure himself out. There are no alternate perspectives on his behaviour either, a further addition to the overarching theme of isolation. When Moon asks Stone what he wants, he is shocked that the older Raksura does not want to kill him, but instead wants Moon to accompany him to court.[28] As well as this, when Moon agrees to come with Stone to Indigo Cloud court, Moon cannot tell if Stone is pleased, which means that the reader does not get Stone’s reaction either.[29]

Wells’ text is different from that of Martin because her world is funnelled through the perspective of Moon rather than that of multiple characters, which influences the presentation of the world. For instance, because Wells’ protagonist is unaware of the customs and practices of his own race, the reader is also left in the dark. If Moon does not know something then neither does the reader. This is interesting when it comes to perspective because of the limit it imposes upon the knowledge of the world. Although this could be a textual limitation, it adds to the divergent themes of Moon not wanting to be part of the Raksura culture whilst also not wanting to be entirely alone in the Three Worlds.


Concluding remarks

i. Disambiguating ambiguities

I have addressed the notion of danger in fantasy literature frequently, yet its complexity may have led me to be somewhat imprecise in its treatment. When I describe ‘danger’ in the fantasy genre, I refer to that which arises from reading difficult and challenging concepts. The created worlds in fantasy are not there simply for escapist pleasure. The presentation of these worlds encourages the reader to change the way she thinks about her own world.

I would like to revisit my analogy of travel broadening the mind. When travelling, there is a great difference between taking a vacation and embarking upon a journey. Fantasy is not a holiday in the sun spent lounging by the poolside of a sheltered resort. Whilst this sounds appealing, it is not real; this is merely an escape from reality. On the contrary, fantasy is an expedition into uncharted faraway lands. While the reader may desire a short break from reality before returning to the mundanities of life, what she truly longs for is a shock to the senses by travelling to a distant land and exploring the limits of the self.

Fantasy literature is not didactic in the simplistic sense that ‘one can learn something by reading it’. Tolkien describes the true mark of fantasy as a certain ‘joy’ which he explains as ‘a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth’.[30] He refers to how fantasy illuminates and reveals something about the present world. Because these worlds are created, they seem far away from the present but, upon closer examination, these worlds often do not differ much from our own. In fantasy novels, characters attempt to solve problems that are also found in the present world. For instance, in The Cloud Roads, Wells handles themes of isolation and self-discovery, which are common adolescent anxieties. One of the numerous benefits of fantasy literature is considering how characters handle these problems. NotW focuses on Kvothe dealing with his desire to avenge his parents’ murder at the hands of the Chandrian. It is interesting to observe his thought processes regarding vengeance because initially he is hot-headed and wants to fight. As time goes by, he learns to sensibly research his enemies and their weaknesses before confronting them. The real danger is the eye-opening realisation that some problems, such as how some people will use others to benefit themselves, are ineluctable and eternal.


ii. The contents of good fantasy

For such a realisation to occur, the created world must be built carefully piece by piece. The establishment of a consistent setting is one of the most crucial aspects of fantasy world-building because it is the stage upon which characters act. The characters within a created world navigate the setting with all its various obstacles to complete their quest. How an author establishes his setting sets a precedent for how the characters navigate the world. For instance, if the text begins with violence or danger, it is highly likely that this will be a common thread throughout the narrative.

Characters then navigate these settings with varying degrees of heroic behaviour. Heroism is an interesting notion because it is entirely subjective; one person’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist. According to Sansa Stark, the foppish Loras Tyrell ‘even looked a true hero, so slim and beautiful, with golden roses around his slender waist and his rich brown hair tumbling down into his eyes’.[31] But what does a hero look like? Each author’s treatment of heroism is a crucial aspect of the establishment of the created world. The way in which the world rewards heroic behaviour is indicative of how the world functions. In The Mirror Empire, Kadaan takes Roh under his protection and takes ownership for Roh’s murder of the Patron. If Kadaan did not do this, Maralah would have murdered Roh because, by law, Roh would technically be the next Patron, which would thwart Maralah’s plans.[32] Heroism refers to behaving selflessly even if it means that credit will not be received for the actions taken. It means displaying vulnerability and emotion, yet having spirit and determination despite the odds.

Form and style are the building blocks for the establishment of the created world and the telling of the narrative. This is an author’s unique way of constructing his story to make it more pleasurable and interesting to read. While language paints a picture of the created world, dialogue expresses attitudes and character behaviour. Rothfuss expresses the power of language in NotW, claiming that ‘words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts’.[33] What he means is that language is a fantasy author’s most useful tool for creating a consistent world and building a thrilling narrative. Narrative techniques, such as structure, are powerful in terms of building and maintaining tension. Tension, which arises from the presence or near-presence of danger, keeps the reader on edge and tosses her emotions in the air with the care of a flamboyant circus juggler before dropkicking them into the audience. When danger is present in a fantasy novel, a good fantasy author writes in such a way to make the reader think that death is coming for any character, not just the extras. When the reader falls in love with certain characters, this makes the tension even greater because any character could get the axe at any given moment. Character perspective influences how the reader receives both these techniques because the limitation and focalisation of certain voices changes the vision of the created world.

iii. Final words and reflections

To bring this discussion full circle, fantasy is a ‘wilderness’ in terms of its lack of rules and uncertainty about what lies in wait around the next corner. A fantasy author effectively has carte blanche regarding genre experimentation and narrative construction. It is undeniable that the storytelling techniques and scope of contemporary fantasy texts are anything short of incredible. Fantasy is arguably one of the very few genres in which a lengthy novel is not a deterrent to a fantasy reader because it means that they can spend more time in the created world. I find fantasy appealing because the alternation between danger-and-safety and tension-and-calm is one of the basic elements of good storytelling. Without this alternation, the story cannot function because it provides a reason for the characters to act and allows their personalities to come alive. If the reader becomes attached to the characters, then the danger is even greater because she will fear for them. Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself commences with the Shanka, a bestial humanoid species, chasing Logen Ninefingers through a forest.[34] Instantly, I want to know why he is being chased and, more importantly, how he ended up with only nine fingers.

Essentially, fantasy without danger is pointless. The onset of danger provides a common goal for the characters to work towards. Why create a fantasy world in which the characters do not embark upon quests or interact with other characters? Be it a saving-the-world quest, as in Crescent Moon, or a revenge-story-cum-final-showdown, as in The Mirror Empire, the characters must navigate the created world to prevent the danger. When characters interact with the environment around them, this visualises the created world.

Fantasy is essentially good storytelling and brings me back to all the farfetched tales my grandfather used to tell me during my childhood. These are stories that induce feelings of joy when the heroes win, despair when they are in danger, and fear when they encounter malevolent creatures. Essentially, these are stories that can be told, retold and rehashed without them losing their magic. Fantasy was the first literary genre that I began seriously reading and it gave me the desire and confidence to tackle others. Although these days I spend a great deal of my reading time self-educating with literary classics, exploring the worlds of science fiction, and appreciating the serpentine writing techniques of accomplished crime authors, I always seem to have a longing inside me. A German word, fernweh, describes this feeling perfectly because it means ‘farsickness’ or the often unsatisfyingly translated ‘ache for distant lands’. This is not ‘homesickness’, as that is a desire to be somewhere familiar or in a place of comfort, or ‘wanderlust’ as that refers to a desire to travel. Fernweh is more internal, referring to experiences never had and emotions never felt. The relation this word has with fantasy is that the genre provides amendment for this indescribable feeling. Fernweh is the feeling for daydreamers and fantasy readers because, in fantasy, there are endless possibilities to be discovered and no limits to imagination.

[1] Le Guin, 11.

[2] ibid.

[3] Hurley, 12.

[4] ibid., 14.

[5] ibid., 104.

[6] Ahmed, 40.

[7] ibid., 18.

[8] ibid., 20.

[9] Morgan, 22; 208.

[10] ibid., 19.

[11] ibid., 39.

[12] Rothfuss, 49-53.

[13] ibid., 9.

[14] ibid., 630-4.

[15] ibid., 1, 662.

[16] Brennan, 317-19.

[17] ibid., 10.

[18] ibid., 22, 334.

[19] Martin, A Storm of Swords, 1055.

[20] Martin, A Game of Thrones, 513-4.

[21] ibid., 528.

[22] ibid., 634.

[23] Martin, A Game of Thrones, 51; A Storm of Swords, 393.

[24] Martin, A Storm of Swords, 942-3.

[25] ibid., 529.

[26] ibid., 797; 39-48, 109-117, 153-9, 305-319, 351-8, 424-30, 502-7.

[27] ibid., 727; 749.

[28] Wells, 76.

[29] ibid., 84.

[30] Tolkien, 60.

[31] Martin, 472-3.

[32] Hurley, 409-410.

[33] Rothfuss, 579.

[34] Joe Abercrombie, The Blade Itself, (Great Britain: Gollancz, 2007), 1.

Fantasy literature project – Part 3

Voila part 3! Hope you enjoy!

Link to part 1 – (

Link to part 2 – (


Part 2: Heroism


i.)         Working towards a definition of ‘heroism’

In the satirical text, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones defines heroes as ‘mythical beings, often selected at birth, who perform amazing deeds of courage, strength and magical mayhem, usually against huge odds’.[1] One half of this definition pertains largely to a subgenre of fantasy called ‘sword and sorcery’, popularised in the nineteen-twenties and thirties by authors like Robert E. Howard who wrote the pulp fantasy stories of Conan the Barbarian and Kull of Atlantis. Howard’s stories depict muscular battle-hungry warriors and self-motivated men of action.[2] These heroes are unrealistic because of their unlimited free-will and near invincibility, which is a large part of the textual appeal for some readers. Wynn Jones’ definition also refers to classic epic fantasy texts like The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien in which the small but well-nourished hobbits perform brave deeds as part of their cause to destroy the Ring. The second part of Wynn Jones’ definition relates more to the heroes of contemporary fantasy. She explains that a hero usually turns out to be just as human as the reader, often ‘in the right place at the right time, (or the wrong place at the wrong time, more likely)’.[3] The heroes in contemporary fantasy texts have obligations and concerns other than themselves, such as Adoulla’s duty to Dhamsawaat, as well as experiencing very real danger, which is evident in the significant death toll in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.

I have touched upon the definition of heroism but I have not yet examined what ‘makes’ a hero. Fantasy authors stretch the definition of heroism because each text sheds new light on different aspects of the ‘hero’. When every depiction of heroism in fantasy texts problematises and confuses any potential definition, it becomes difficult to work towards an idea of heroism. This is especially the case when authors of contemporary fantasy depict heroism in interesting and realistic ways. By realistic, I mean that these authors depict their heroic characters as flawed beings who often make the wrong choices, leading them into danger. That is not to say that early fantasy texts are facile but the dichotomy between protagonist and antagonist reduces to the ‘good’ hero triumphing over ‘evil’ villains while the textual focus is the hero taking control of his destiny. In contrast, the hero of contemporary fantasy often has little control over his destiny and does not fall in a simple paradigm of good or evil. This complication adds a sense of reality to the fictional world of the text.

A hero is not self-defined but constructed by those around him. This is evident in the initially negative presentation of Jaime Lannister in GOT because one of Lannister’s first scenes is when he pushes Bran Stark out of a window after Bran sees him having sex with Cersei, his own sister.[4] As well as this, Lannister is far from being a hero in Eddard Stark’s eyes; Stark considers Lannister to be untrustworthy because he murdered Mad King Aerys Targaryen despite being a member of the Kingsguard, sworn to protect him.[5] Yet Martin reveals in the third book of the series that, if Jaime had not broken his oath to his king, Aerys would have burnt King’s Landing to the ground along with all its inhabitants.[6] Perspective is intrinsically tied to heroism in the sense that perhaps, when reading the text, we are encouraged to harbour the same sentiments as some of the characters.

When an author experiments with conventions and tropes things become much more interesting. Morgan’s protagonist, Ringil, suffers from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing the execution of his lover.[7] In Crescent Moon, Adoulla regularly bemoans the fact that he has to fight ghuls instead of being able to enjoy a cup of cardamom tea and a good meal in his favourite townhouse.[8] Both these authors build upon past depictions of heroism in fantasy by portraying their protagonists as flawed human beings, liable to feeling raw human emotion or craving simple hedonistic pleasures.


ii.)        The makings of a hero

An important question here is what actions a character takes to become heroic. Does he behave nobly in every circumstance or does she negotiate a successful escape from a dangerous situation? Is there a checklist of steps a character must take to secure his title of ‘hero’ or is it something more internal, a sense of enlightenment on the part of the character?

In Wells’ and Brennan’s texts, the protagonists are selfless. Moon, the hero of The Cloud Roads, puts himself in grave danger for the Raksura, a group of people to which he does not yet belong. Yet, after seeing the Raksura’s enemies, the Fell, carrying away a group of Arbora, Moon puts aside any past conflict he has with other Raksura and chases after them.[9] In A Natural History, Isabella has no desire to claim credit for the scholarship about the rock-wyrms of Vystrana, preferring that her murdered husband’s name remain underneath the title of her research.[10] This is her lasting dedication to his legacy so that his name carries on while she furthers her own future research. Selflessness is heroic and noble because it benefits others rather than just those who act.

Ahmed’s protagonists, Dawoud and Adoulla, are in poor shape due to age and former injuries. Adoulla is described as ‘a fat old man sweating heavily though the sun was hardly up’ while Dawoud ages significantly and loses strength every time he casts a spell.[11] These characters get hurt, rather than easily triumphing over threat. Yet what makes them heroic is that they have spirit rather than brawn. Dawoud fights hordes of skin ghuls and Adoulla threatens the Falcon Prince that if he betrays Dhamsawaat, he will drink his blood.[12] Due to their weaknesses, the threat seems greater to them which makes their heroic actions more significant.

Rothfuss’ text commences upon a backdrop of gossip and hearsay surrounding Kvothe’s identity. Kvothe tells Chronicler that he is ‘the very special kind of myth that creates itself’.[13] Effectively, by telling his story, he rectifies the gossip, giving his own account of how Kvothe, the hero, came to be. In this, Kvothe makes himself the hero because he takes the reins of the story out of Chronicler’s hands and tells it in his own way. This is interesting because it emphasises the subjectivity of heroism by encouraging the reader to judge whether Kvothe’s actions are heroic and whether he can be wholly believed, as ‘the best lies about [Kvothe] are the ones [he] told’.[14]

Some texts contain no heroes; instead, some characters merely behave heroically. In The Mirror Empire, Lilia poses as a reincarnation of the god-like figure, Faith Ahya, to convince Ghrasia to allow the passage of thousands of refugees into Liona.[15] Essentially, Lilia dons a heroic ‘costume’ to accomplish what she wants. This scene is particularly indicative of Hurley’s treatment of heroism because it suggests that heroes do not exist but certain situations require heroic action. In Martin’s and Morgan’s texts, the authors both play with the notion of grey characters as heroes. In GOT, Martin’s heroes are far more complex than simply ‘good’ or ‘bad’, as every character is capable of both. When an incognito Lord Varys brings wine to an imprisoned Ned Stark, Varys suggests that honesty and honour do not win a person a long life.[16] Although Varys has no honour, he uses his power to ‘serve the realm, and the realm needs peace’.[17] Stark may have his honour but is powerless in a prison cell. In Martin’s world, feats of derring-do and gallantry rarely correspond with a long life. Tyrion critiques Lord Brax for drowning in his armour claiming that ‘if that was gallantry, he would take cowardice every time’.[18] Sansa even finds out to her horror that ‘in life, the monsters win’ after witnessing the death of her father.[19] Common sense and pragmatics seem to prevail over ‘hurrah-and-huzzah’ falsities. Morgan’s protagonist, Ringil, consorts with the supernatural enemy Aldrain, Seethlaw, and it is never clear to whose side he swears allegiance. By the ending of The Steel Remains, Ringil looks into a mirror and is ‘no longer afraid of what he s[ees] looking back at him’, a suggestion that he embraces his dark side.[20]


iii.)       On quests

A character requires an incentive to become heroic or display his heroic qualities. This incentive is the quest, a shared commonality amongst the heroes of these novels. The hero embarks upon a quest to defeat a tyrannical despot and his armies, to seek enlightenment or to rescue a captive royal. In a sense, the quest is the vehicle by which a character can enact heroic deeds.

The ‘saving the world’ quest involves a character or group of characters preventing an enemy from destroying the world. In Ahmed’s novel, Adoulla and his companions save their city of Dhamsawaat by preventing ghul-of-ghuls Orshado and the manjackal Mouw Awa from taking the Throne of the Crescent Moon. In Morgan’s text, Ringil and his former battle-companions rescue his cousin, Sherin, and slay the demonic Aldrain who threaten the future of the world. Within the main quest of the narrative there is also the internal quest of the hero. For instance, in Ahmed’s text, Adoulla saves Dhamsawaat so he can fulfil his oath to his one true love, Miri, and beg for her hand in marriage.[21] Adoulla regularly bemoans the fact that Zamia and Raseed take great pleasure in killing ghuls and berates the young dervish Raseed for being overzealous and refusing to partake in more sensual pleasures.[22] Adoulla takes little pleasure in killing, considering love to be a far nobler quest. In Morgan’s novel, Ringil’s quest to save the city of Trelayne becomes intertwined with the fulfilment of a prophecy told by a marsh dweller woman that ‘a dark lord will rise’.[23] Ringil undergoes a character transformation by executing his former lover, Grace-of-Heaven, for selling him to the Aldrain.[24] In this, Ringil fulfils the prophecy because he is, in fact, the dark lord risen.

The numerous characters in Hurley’s and Martin’s texts have individual motivations for personal gain or the progress of their clan or family. In Hurley’s text, Lilia only wants to find her mother, even sacrificing Gian, who helped nurse her back to health, to achieve further progress in this quest.[25] In Martin’s novel, all the families seek growth and prosperity through careful alliances. Families are even willing to betray other families for their own gain, which is the case when Robert Baratheon promises a lordship to anyone who assassinates Daenerys Targaryen.[26] The third book in the series even reveals that Littlefinger convinced Jon Arryn’s own wife, Lysa, to poison him and make up a rumour that the Lannister’s had orchestrated his assassination.[27] The identification of the hero becomes difficult when every character in these texts has a separate quest. Yet a quest purely for personal gain is not entirely courageous because it only helps one person at the expense of others. In these texts, the heroes are those who navigate the treacherous and volatile worlds contained within these texts while staying true to themselves. In GOT, Eddard Stark quests for the truth of the Baratheon children’s birth rights despite the danger of crossing Cersei Lannister.[28] In The Mirror Empire, Ora Dasai takes the blame for Roh’s letter in cipher to the Kai, their leader, even though this certainly means punishment.[29] Amazingly enough, the reward for these heroic traits is often death. Despite this, these quests of selflessness and fearlessness define the hero because he takes that path anyway although it may lead to his demise.

In Brennan’s, Rothfuss’ and Wells’ texts, the quests are more personal. In A Natural History, Isabella quests for the advancement of science in the field of dragon anatomy. Danger presents itself on her quest when she is captured by smugglers. Isabella tells the smugglers that her group of dragon naturalists will be able to stop the dragons from attacking people. By doing this, Isabella escapes with her life whilst also managing to enlist the aid of the smugglers to locate the dragons.[30] Isabella manages to get out of a bad situation and further the quest by thinking quickly and sweet-talking the smugglers. In NotW, Kvothe’s assistant, Bast, wants his master to return to his heroic ways because he seems to have ‘lost’ his heroism during his self-imposed exile.[31] In a sense, Kvothe ‘relives’ his heroic past by telling his story and, in turn, recollecting the experiences of the quest. For instance, while at university he saves a fellow student from burning alive and, later, slays a draccus.[32] In The Cloud Roads, Moon solves his initial quest of finding his people relatively early in the text. When Stone takes him to the Indigo Cloud Court, one of the homes of the Raksura, Moon’s quest then becomes learning to accept his own people and then himself as a Raksura. Moon initially has trouble finding a place within the hierarchical Raksuran society and does not want to answer to anyone given that he lived as a ‘wild solitary’ before.[33] Moon must learn to come to terms with himself and others around him figuring that ‘if [he] can’t fit in here, it’s not them; it’s [him]’.[34] When he finally agrees to be Jade’s consort to ensure the future health of the Court, he accepts their differences and sacrifices his own prior misgivings to connect with his own people, allowing himself to belong somewhere.[35] Essentially, he must overcome himself.

In these texts, there is a commonality of characters becoming heroes through a quest, yet each quest differs in how the author frames the quest and how each character becomes a hero. So, does the quest make the hero or does the character become a hero by embarking upon a quest? My hunch is that a character is not a hero until he embarks upon a quest yet the quest provides the possibility for heroic deeds.

[1] Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, (Great Britain: Vista, 1996), 92.

[2] Joseph A. McCullough V, “The Demarcation of Sword and Sorcery”, Black Gate: Adventures in Fantasy Literature, accessed May 17, 2017.

[3] Wynn Jones, 92.

[4] Martin, 85.

[5] ibid., 114-15.

[6] George R.R. Martin, A Storm of Swords, (New York: Bantam Books, 2011), 506-7.

[7] Morgan, 49.

[8] Ahmed, 48.

[9] Wells, 634.

[10] Brennan, 331.

[11] Ahmed, 65, 272.

[12] ibid., 252-53, 265.

[13] Rothfuss, 45.

[14] ibid.

[15] Hurley, 506-7.

[16] Martin, 633.

[17] ibid., 636.

[18] ibid., 765.

[19] ibid., 746.

[20] Morgan, 344.

[21] Ahmed, 171.

[22] ibid., 272, 26.

[23] Morgan, 122.

[24] ibid., 343.

[25] ibid., 282-3.

[26] Martin, 111-13.

[27] Martin, A Storm of Swords, 1114.

[28] Martin, A Game of Thrones, 528-9,

[29] Hurley, 406-7.

[30] Brennan, 130-32.

[31] Rothfuss, 659-661.

[32] ibid., 449-50, 585-6.

[33] Wells, 175.

[34] ibid., 128.

[35] ibid., 690.

Fantasy Literature Project – Part 2

Voila paragraph 1!

Hope you enjoy 🙂

(link to part 1 –

Part 1: Setting


  1. On Maps

Maps are a helpful addition to the immersive atmosphere of the setting because they depict distance between places whilst also being a visual aid for the passage of time within the created world.  Maps also give the world a significant amount of realism because the existence of a map presupposes that somebody within the created world documented its geography at some point in time.

This is especially important in George R. R. Martin’s GOT, in which the maps of North and South Westeros are highly detailed and contain clear divisions between the different regions. Although Martin is explicit in describing journey length, both maps display the immensity of the setting. It takes Jon Snow eighteen days to travel from Winterfell to The Wall; these are two locations in relative proximity to each other. [1] The astute reader can calculate the vast length of time it takes the Starks to travel from Winterfell to King’s Landing, two locations that are a great distance from each other. Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons, presented as the memoir of a dragon naturalist, includes three maps of the quasi-Slavic setting drawn by the ‘author’ of the memoir, replete with landmarks and etchings that pertain to certain moments in the text. The inclusion of diegetic maps makes the memoir seem authentic and Brennan’s world more realistic.

It is interesting when characters use these maps. Some fantasy settings do not contain the advanced technology of the present world, so it is highly likely that the making of fantasy maps in these worlds is limited to cruder or more primitive forms of cartographical technology. It is also difficult to determine whether these maps in the front or back matter of the book are the same maps available to the characters. It is likely that they are a polished professional version of the scribbled maps some of the characters have on their person. Although authors in the present world are drafting these maps as a visual enhancement for their created worlds, Martin’s map, for all its detail, contains some inaccuracies which lead to problems when travelling through the lands. When Tyrion travels North from Winterfell with Jon, he soon finds that ‘the map [is] one thing and the land quite another’.[2] Maps also contain a wealth of encoded information regarding the political environment of the worlds. In Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon and Hurley’s The Mirror Empire, each map depicts the lands from the perspective of a particular ‘kingdom’. This gives the impression that these maps are not wayfarers’ rough sketches but commissioned works of professional cartography.

Morgan’s and Wells’ texts do not include maps at all. In both these texts, it seems as if the emphasis is more upon how the character navigates and deals with the harsh and unforgiving setting rather than the setting being the vehicle for character interaction. In Wells’ text, The Cloud Roads, the protagonist, Moon, searches for self-knowledge and knowledge of his people, the Raksura. The Raksura are a humanoid shape-shifting species divided into Aeriat, those who can fly, and Arbora, those who cannot. [3] The lack of maps adds to the isolated atmosphere of the text and complements Moon’s feelings of being lost in a vast world. Morgan’s The Steel Remains is situated in a grim post-war world where displaced refugees swarm the roads between cities and power divisions are tentative at best. In this text, the lack of maps adds to the disorienting and ambiguous atmosphere of a world still reeling from a massive conflict.[4]


2. On Introducing the Setting

I define ‘setting’ as the environment of a world and the diegetic aspects of the text; that is, anything within the world that is an intrinsic part of its overall structure. Except for A Natural History, all the texts commence with a backdrop of danger. Martin’s text contains a horrifying prologue in which members of the Night’s Watch are attacked by ‘the Others’, leaving one survivor.[5] In the following chapter, this same survivor is beheaded by Lord Stark for the act of desertion.[6] The relationship between Martin’s prologue and the following chapter stresses the importance of perspective. In the prologue, the survivor, Gared, has a name, backstory and personality, whereas in the ensuing chapter he is just a deserter awaiting his execution. This dichotomy between the prologue and initial chapter firmly establishes the harsh nature of Westeros, suggesting that the world is cruel and benefits only he who manipulates the world to his will.

Rothfuss’ frame narrative begins in a local inn amongst a small crowd of five people which ‘was as many as the Waystone ever saw these days, times being what they were’.[7] This quote implies the existence of an unknown menace and a suggestion that Rothfuss’ world of Temerant has fallen on dark times. Rothfuss foreshadows danger through characters gossiping, before revealing the danger when a bloodied Carter stumbles into the bar carrying the body of a giant spider that has attacked him on the road.[8] The relationship between foreshadowing and the ‘grand reveal’ creates narrative suspense and assures the reader of the high possibility of danger in Rothfuss’ world.

Morgan’s, Ahmed’s, Wells’ and Hurley’s texts all commence with gritty and life-threatening action scenes. Morgan’s protagonist, Ringil, kills ‘corpsemites’ who have reanimated the body of his friend’s deceased mother.[9] An unknown man tortures a guardsman in Ahmed’s brutal quasi-Arabic world.[10] In Hurley’s world, the pacifistic Dhai in one universe burn Lilia’s village and kill her mother in a parallel universe.[11] In Wells’ world, another larger Raksura hunts the protagonist, Moon, giving him the impression he will be eaten.[12]

Although the protagonist of Brennan’s text, Isabella Camherst, is not in any life-threatening danger within the first few paragraphs of the story, death and danger are still present. A seven-year old Isabella finds a dead ‘sparkling’, an insect-sized dragon, on a bench, which sparks her fascination with dragon anatomy.[13] In the world Brennan depicts, which is similar to 19th century England, this is an inappropriate interest for a lady.[14] Isabella’s danger is potentially life-ruining because being interested in ‘unsuitable’ things could jeopardise her future opportunities to find a husband.[15]

It is important to consider what an author presents in the first stages of his text because the aim of the first chapter is to establish a setting that entices the reader to continue reading. This is a ‘snapshot’ of the author’s world, a brief description. The choice to include sudden danger identifies that a fundamental aspect of these worlds is the proximity and reality of death. Returning to Le Guin’s quote, not only is this ‘wilderness’ unsafe, but danger is ubiquitous.


3. On the Type of Setting

The important question here is how the author establishes his setting to paint a picture of the world. In his essay ‘On Fairy Stories’, J.R.R. Tolkien describes the difficulty of making ‘a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible’.[16] Tolkien argues that a good fantasy author presents a world that is consistent and rational but utterly foreign as well. A reader must also suspend her scepticism for fantasy settings to seem real; she must allow herself to fall under the author’s spell.

Wells’ ‘Three Worlds’ is replete with alien races, flying islands and giant predators, and Hurley’s world of Raisa contains sentient plants, gender-ambiguous characters and an interesting magic system governed by ascendant satellites. When characters interact with the settings, this brings the world to life. The possibility of flight adds an extra dimension to Wells’ mono-perspectival text. When Moon takes his first flight, further description of the hilly island setting surrounding the Cordan’s camp emerges.[17] With each flight comes more detailed description of the setting, presenting the world from a ‘bird’s-eye-view’. In Hurley’s world, there are different social customs depending upon the region. For instance, there are two genders in Dorinah, male and female; three in Saiduan, male, female and ataisa, an intersex gender; and five in Dhai, female-passive, female-assertive, male-passive, male-assertive and ungendered. The characters modify how they refer to other characters depending upon the region. When Roh, a character from Dhai observes Luna, a character from Saiduan, being dressed, he wonders what gender Luna chose. Soon after, he realises that in Saiduan, gender is determined by others, an interesting account of social difference across the various settings in Hurley’s world.[18]

Morgan, Rothfuss, Martin and Brennan use settings that are not dissimilar to present-world historical settings. For instance, Brennan’s world is almost Victorian and Martin’s world is reminiscent of feudal Europe. Given that there are multitudinous possibilities to world creation, why does an author write about a world that is not so far from our own? Perhaps an author uses settings that are not wholly original so that he can focus on a more profound concept, or to reveal something about our own world. Brennan’s text explores the experiences of a woman in a patriarchal world and Morgan’s text tackles how non-heterosexual characters navigate a world that punishes them by death.[19] Martin’s world investigates Machiavellian politics between warring families who ‘play the game of thrones [and] either win or die.’[20] Rothfuss explores non-linear structure and interesting narrative techniques by having the hero tell the story of his own legacy.

Ahmed includes a colourful epigraph of fictional verse poetry that gradually paints a picture of the city of Dhamsawaat.[21] The fictional poet, Ismi Shihab, describes Dhamsawaat as the ‘king of cities’, conveying its vast size, and likens it to a ‘jewel’, expressing its beauty and grandeur. When he explains that ‘a thousand thousand men pass through and pass in’, this conjures up imagery of overpopulation and crowdedness. He alliteratively juxtaposes ‘bookshops’ with ‘brothels’, detailing the various possibilities of this city. The final line expresses that ‘he who tires of Dhamsawaat tires of life’, suggesting that this city is never boring and can fulfil any mortal desires. Being a reader from a European background living in New Zealand, this text took me to an unfamiliar and vibrant world. Yet this might not be the case for someone living in a busy Middle Eastern city who perhaps may find that Ahmed’s descriptions of Dhamsawaat are like that of his own city. A reader’s experience with a setting is entirely relative because one reader may relate to a setting and another may find herself transported to another world.

So, why read about different worlds? To delve into an immersive fantasy world is like going diving for the first time; at once you are astounded by the new and unfamiliar surroundings but are also in a state of wonder and fear. Yet, while reading the text, one becomes accustomed to the setting and how it may influence certain choices a character makes. On the one hand, I am attracted to fantasy because of the brief respite it provides from the present world but, on the other hand, I enjoy reading how authors experiment with certain aspects of the present world in their created worlds. In the texts I have looked at, tyrannical rulers manipulate their subjects, women and minorities are oppressed, and death comes often and painfully. Despite the multitudinous possibilities of fantasy literature, it is interesting that these authors create worlds containing problems from the present world. For instance, Martin exposes the great lengths people will go to for power and Morgan creates a world wherein non-heterosexuals are executed for their sexual preferences. Tolkien argues that these created worlds make our own world seem more magical.[22] By reading fantasy, the reader transports herself into another world. These created worlds initially seem vastly different but then turn out to be not so far from our own. Although these texts are by no means didactic, I enjoy reading how characters overcome problems and navigate their created worlds. Perhaps it can be argued that, by reading about an author’s presentation of a problem that is also existent in our world, we are able to learn from and potentially figure out a solution for a problem in our own world.




[1] George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones (New York: Bantam Books, 2011), 121.

[2] ibid., 118.

[3] Martha Wells, The Cloud Roads (San Francisco: Night Shade Books, 2011), 761-65.

[4] Richard Morgan, The Steel Remains (Great Britain: Gollancz, 2008), 275.

[5] Martin, 1-11.

[6] ibid., 13-15.

[7] Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind (London: DAW Books, 2007), 3.

[8] ibid., 7-10.

[9] Morgan, 3.

[10] Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon (USA: DAW Books, 2012), 1-3.

[11] Kameron Hurley, The Mirror Empire (New York: Angry Robot, 2014), 11.

[12] Wells, 8-10.

[13] Marie Brennan, A Natural History of Dragons (New York: Tor, 2013), 1.

[14] ibid., 17.

[15] ibid., 3.

[16] J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”, Tree and Leaf (London: Harper Collins, 2001), 47.

[17] Wells, 29-31.

[18] Hurley, 400.

[19] Morgan, 49-50.

[20] Martin, 488.

[21] Ahmed, 4.

[22] Tolkien, 50.

Extract from Short Story


Ch. 1

Jareth jerked upright in bed after falling through dream-world for what seemed to be an eternity. Soft skin beside him. Home. Peace. For now. He was always amused at the way Marijke’s brow creased at the middle while she dreamt. Jareth still felt the delicious sensation of desire whenever he looked at his wife of six years; a sign of a future in this uncertain world, perhaps. He nestled his face into his wife’s luscious auburn mane and inhaled deeply. He was safe, and that was all that mattered. So was she. His hands wandered under the sheets as he felt his passion rising. She grabbed his fingers and turned over to face her husband. A sultry smile crept from the corner of her lips and spread across her face. Six years had gone by and there had been no moderation in their lust for one another. Marijke stared deep into frozen iceberg eyes, Jareth drank her in. Their bodies collided; an animalistic whirl of fuck. Biting, fighting, breathing each other’s soul; Marijke screamed with delight. They were one.

She fell off him and laughed a guttural sound so primal it almost stirred Jareth again. He pulled her into the warm downy fur covering his expansive chest. Running her fingers over his numerous scars, she remembered the day she had first seen him training at swordplay in the central academy. He had always been a skilled swordsman as well as being adept at hand-to-hand combat, gaining him the favour of his instructors early on. His sly smile to her as she left the adjoining archive room had almost cost him his right eye when his opponent came crashing down on his helmeted skull with a magnificent chop; a constant running joke between the two lovers. His earthy scent rose up her nostrils and she breathed him in. To hold this moment longer, for it not to vanish into the ether. That would be but a dream.

Jareth pulled himself out of his wife’s clutches and went to fetch a flagon of mead to tide himself over until he broke his fast. The early morning air outside was crisp and full with the scent of spring-time flowers; birds circled each other in displays of affection whilst insects dive-bombed and whirled through the heady scene. Once, a nest of ants had taken over a crack in the dry ground below the marital bedroom window before being washed away during flood season. Jareth surveyed the courtyard, exhaled and was satisfied that all was as expected. He gulped a healthy mouthful of mead and let the amber liquid flow down his throat; he savoured the spicy fragrances that assaulted his nasal cavities. Lumbering back to their bedroom, he cracked his back twice. This had become a common habit after he had been unhorsed the previous summer in a friendly tourney. His pride had been hurt more.

The first explosion rocked the wooden foundations of their abode and sent Jareth backwards. Other explosions were heard farther off in the township. A scream from the bedroom made him drop his flagon and rush to the source. Pausing at the door, he considered his plan of attack. Rushing headlong into an unknown situation was unwise but had shock value. His stomach knotted when he realised he was unarmed. Inwardly cursing himself for not being overly cautious in this turbulent climate, he crept into the room with his hands raised. Jareth could smell them before his eyes made sense of the three burly figures surrounding his wife. Barbarians. Stupid and out of their depth, yes, but still armed and dangerous. He had come across bands of outlaws such as these in his expeditions further north and knew that gold or silver often sent them on their way. His wife’s face told him otherwise. The presumed leader was garbed in a whole bearskin and sported a large goat skull which protruded from his tattered tunic. Chapped fishy lips curled over two incomplete rows of blackened teeth as the leader caught sight of Jareth’s arms in surrender.

“Forest monkeys always taste better,” said the barbarian as he licked his fingers. The two holding Marijke laughed uproariously and gave her a shove. Jareth caught sight of the throwing axe hanging from his belt and knew better than to react to his comment. Marijke’s shoulders were hunched, her fists balled and her face was fixed upon the ground in front of her. Jareth felt powerless as a warrior and as a husband.
“Your life for hers,” was the barbarian’s idea of an honourable trade.
“Ridiculous. How can her safety be ensured?”
The barbarian was adamant. “Your life,” pointing with a crude dagger at Jareth’s face, “for hers”. Unarmed and half-clothed, Jareth quickly surveyed the surrounding area for weak points and sharp objects. Nothing. Habitually, barbarians were clumsy; often giving themselves away in an attempted ambush or leaving themselves unprotected during a raid. Not these. Something about their eyes told Jareth they were here for another reason other than rape and plunder. He fixed his stare on the obsidian eyes smouldering below the barbarian’s heavy-set brow. No pupils. Blacker than the deepest oceans where krakens writhe and await the unwary fleet, darker than the raven’s plumage. Unblinking, he demanded his terms once more. Jareth had to stall for time.
“I can’t…I have enough gold to satisfy you and your…fellow companions for the rest of your lives…I…” He froze.
Whilst maintaining eye contact with Jareth the barbarian leader drew the serrated edge of the crude dagger across Marijke’s throat as she mouthed “coward” at her husband. A crimson river cascaded from the gash in her neck down her body. Jareth stared on in disbelief, his knees giving way underneath him. His eyes were transfixed upon the convulsing form of his wife whilst the barbarians pushed past him and exited their home. A home they considered safe; a stronghold to protect them against the winter and those who would do them harm. But they had got in. They were inside their sanctuary and Jareth had been unable to do anything; he had shirked from his responsibility. Before Jareth slipped into unconsciousness, the last thing he saw was the word ‘coward’ engraved in his mind.