Fantasy and Faith: Part One

Welcome to the most recent addition to our collection of wonderful guest blogs! Today we have the talented Jeanette O’Hagen with us, and she will share on the subject of  Fantasy and Faith. Join us for an excellent read!

Fantasy and Faith: Part 1

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” C. S. Lewis

fantasy1Not everyone loves fantasy, not everyone gets it. ‘I prefer reality,’ they say as they look at you slightly askance. The implication, whether stated aloud or not, is that fantasy is escapist entertainment for the childish and less enlightened among us. Even so, I don’t mind admitting that I have not lost my love for fantasy since the day I was introduced to C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series at age 7. In fact, I spend a large part of my days reading fantasy or writing it. So what can we say to the naysayers? Despite the critics, Spec-Fic including fantasy continues to dominate the bestsellers and movie blockbusters. In fact, many people read or watch  fantasy without realising it – Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol or Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, for instance, or Disney’s Fantasia. Moreover, fantasy comes in a wide variety of guises – so chances are there is something for everyone.

What is Fantasy? Speculative fiction (Spec-Fic) has elements integral to the plot and setting that are contrary to what we accept as known reality. In Science Fiction (Sci-Fi), these ‘fantastical’ elements are given a scientific or technological explanation while in Fantasy they have a supernatural or mythological basis. Put simply, fantasy is usually set in an alternative reality that incorporates supernatural, otherworldly or mythological elements such supernatural or mythic beings, settings and/or powers. Of course, sometimes Sci-Fi and Fantasy overlap, as when scientific explanations are given for magical elements (e.g. in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series) or magical or supernatural elements are added to a Sci-Fi world (the Force and mind powers in Star Wars). Different types of Fantasy. Fantasy has been penned for all age groups and forms – picture books, short stories, novellas, novels, poems, songs, comics, graphic novels, plays, and films. It can be high, low, dark or comic.

  • Fantasy may be High in scale (world shaping battles or quests), fantastical elements (laden with magic or mystical creatures) or tone (heroic and hopeful);
  • Low fantasy focuses on smaller scale stories, has little magic and more realism, have flawed heroes and/or have a less hopeful tone.
  • Dark fantasy has a dark, gloomy (gothic) tone and combines elements of dread and horror (ghosts, werewolves, vampires etc).
  • Comic fantasy is essentially humorous in intent and tone and may include satire or farce (e.g. Piers Anthony’s Xanth’s series or Discworld books of Terry Prachett).

Fantasy can be divided into a wide range of sub-genres, which often overlap. For instance:

  • Secondary or alternative world fantasy is set in a world other than earth – J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Christopher Paolini’s Alagaesia
  • Epic fantasy is high fantasy with big scale events and big stakes in which the hero must defeat evil to save the world.
  • Sword and Sorcery is a subset of high fantasy which includes medieval style society, sword wielding warriors and magicians (akin to Dragons and Dungeons style worlds). The world may include Tolkieneque races such as dwarves, elves, orcs, goblins in addition to humans.
  • Court Intrigue may be less high in tone and focuses on the conflicts and plots of the royal court. A currently popular example of this is R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series.
  • Portal fantasy involves a portal from our ordinary, mundane world to an alternative world. The classic example is C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series or Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series. J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter’s series has elements of this.
  • Historical fantasy is set in earlier historical period while retaining magical elements, often drawing earlier narratives like Greek, Roman or Norse mythologies or the Arthurian legends. An example is Mary Stewart’s Arthurian trilogy.
  • Alternative history with fantastical elements, e.g. Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker novels of a frontier America where folk magic worked
  • Fairytales may be adapted or reinterpreted.
  • Anthropomorphic fantasy – stories where animals, toys or other objects dress, talk and think like humans, as in Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit.
  • Paranormal fantasy is set in the ordinary world (usually contemporary but it could be past or even the future) while including vampires, werewolves and other shape-shifters, mermaids, zombies, witches, ghosts or humans with psychic abilities. A popular example of this is Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight.
  • Urban fantasy is (paranormal) fantasy with a contemporary, urban setting.
  • Supernatural fantasy is similar to paranormal fantasy but often features spiritual beings like angels and demons. Ian Acheson’s Angleguard is an example.
  • Magical Realism – magic elements (which are often symbolic) are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment. Examples are Yann Martel’s Life of Pi or Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate.
  • In Allegory the story has a hidden meaning with characters, objects and events often standing in for something else. An example of a fairy tale style with strong allegorical elements is Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s Heartless and many of George MacDonald’s tales.

Fantasy often includes crossovers to other genres, including elements of romance, suspense, mystery, crime or humour.

Stay tuned for Part 2 which will appear tomorrow at 9 AM EST


About Jeanette O’Hagen

JeannetteJeanette O’Hagan lives in Brisbane, Australia with her husband Tony and two beautiful children. She has returned to her love of writing after various careers as medical practitioner, theology lecturer and full-time mum. She blogs and is currently writing her fourth manuscript in the as yet unpublished Akrad seriesShe writes poems, short stories and non-fiction pieces and is studying a Masters of Arts (Writing). Jeanette loves reading, art, travel, catching up for coffee with friends and communicating God’s great love for each one of His children.  Find her at ;  ;  ; Photos copyright Jeanette O’Hagan 2014

7 thoughts on “Fantasy and Faith: Part One

  1. Brava, Jeannette! Thank you from the bottom of our fantasy-loving hearts for not apologizing to those who look askance at fantasy literature. As I wrote in my blog about the stigma of genre, “The best science fiction and fantasy works have always had a social conscience and grappled with contemporary moral and ethical problems, albeit in a fantastical setting.”

    Sure, much of fantasy is the equivalent of summer “popcorn” films (and there’s nothing wrong with that!), but the best of it raises important questions and highlights social issues of concern. The Lord of the Rings, granddaddy of them all, had themes protesting war and unrestrained industrialization. That these issues are clothed in the garb of powerful wizards, beautiful elves and frightening orcs does not diminish them–it reaches us on additional levels and touches us with magic.

    I look forward to the second part of your post referencing faith with fantasy. In the meantime, there will always be Muggles who just don’t get it. Let us celebrate that we see the magic.


    1. Thank you, Blanca, for such a great comment. Your article sounds really great, too. Can you leave a link here so I can connect to it? I would love to read it, as I’m sure anyone else who comments. 🙂 Thanks for visiting!


    2. Hi Blanca

      Well said. I totally agree with your comment that “The best science fiction and fantasy works have always had a social conscience and grappled with contemporary moral and ethical problems, albeit in a fantastical setting.” And that it “reaches us on additional levels and touches us with magic.”

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.


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