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Cal's Soapbox #5

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Sat Sep 08, 2007 7:17 am
Caligula's Launderette says...

Cal’s Soapbox: On Fantasy and Science Fiction

[Brought to by Fantasy Fools]
[…with a little help from the Good Doctor Lyn]

“Fiction is life with the airspace taken out.” – My Favorite English Professor


Last semester I took a Science Fiction/Fantasy Survey Course from a very cool lady, who will hereby be known as the Good Doctor Lyn. During the course we discussed what it was that made a work fantasy or science fiction. There are quite a few things I’ve linked it this Soapbox, feel free to download them.

Fantasy: making the impossible probable
    involves created worlds, creatures, languages, etc…
    fairy tales
    folk tales
    not on a corporeal plane

When you explain things in Fantasy, they are explained by magic.

Science Fiction: making the improbable possible
    future world
    technology applied
    parrellel dimension
    practical application of ideas, most often technological ideas
    Read Damon Knight’s What is Science Fiction? [page 1, page 2, page 3]
    Definitions of “Science Fiction” [page 1, page 2, page 3]

When you explain things in Science Fiction, they are explained by future technology.


Creating the Fantastic

Real World vs. Fantastic World

1. Mundane --> Significant (i.e. dog barking)
When dealing with a fantastic world thing that would normally seem trivial become extremely significant, such as a dog barking, instead of being a normal occurrence becomes a harbinger of death, or something just as ominous.

2. Reality --> Unreality (magic)
Well, that’s a given.

3. Problem (big) --> Problem (extreme)
Often in fantastic worlds the author takes a problem that is either happening or has happened in the real world, and dresses it up or presents it in such a way, that it has distanced the problem, so it can be talked about, discussed, as well as consequences extrapolated.

The Things that Remain the Same

One of the things about creating a fantastic world is that you must make it believable to the reader that it does exist. Some of the things must be the same or at least familiar to both worlds.

1. You can’t ever make everything perfect.
2. Humans
3. Government
4. Universal Laws
5. Change
6. Conflict
7. Symbols
8. Cause + Effect

Read: Sources of the Fantastic by Rabkin [page 1, page 2], Fantastic Worlds by Rabkin, Looking Back by Ursula Leguin [page 1, page 2] & Modern Science Fiction by Joseph Campbell [page 1, page 2].


Joseph Campbell & The Hero’s Journey

My favorite part about this is that the Hero's Journey was the template for Star Wars.

Character Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey

1. Hero - The one making the journey, facing the challenges, and attempting to carry out the mission, (even if reluctantly). Usually the protagonist, but does not necessarily have to be.

2. Shadow - Often the villain, but may simply be negative energy trying to defeat the hero or keep him from finishing or from even carrying out the mission.

3. Mentor - Wise giver of guidance and advice.

4. Threshold Guardian - Tries to prevent hero from proceeding on the mission.

5. Shape-shifter - May be a helper or enemy or both. May literally change shape, form and allegiance.

6. Trickster - May be hostile or helpful to the hero. Plays tricks, games, changes the rules, etc…

7. Herald - Signals to the hero something important is about to happen or points out the approach of significant people/events.

8. Allies - Assorted good guys/gals who assist the hero on the journey.

The Hero’s Journey

1. The Miraculous Birth - Usually at the hero’s birth there was astronomical sign or some other sign from the heavens that the hero is special.

2. The Ordinary World - Hero lives in the everyday world, but there may be something wrong or the hero may have some personal longing, need or other problem that is throwing things out of whack.

3. Meeting with Mentor - The hero comes in contact with a more knowledgeable/experienced individual, who provides spiritual, emotional, tactical, or philosophical guidance as well as encouragement.

4. Call to Adventure - Hero is called to move outside his/her ordinary life to perform a mission or quest usually in response to some crisis that has occurred or is impending.

5. Refusal of the Call - Uncertain of his/her abilities, the hero will most often refuse the first call.

6. Crossing the First Threshold - Hero leaves the ordinary world and enters the “special world” of adventure. He/she may encounter threshold guardian(s) along the way; however, the hero has often gained or realized he/she has some special powers to overcome.

7. Test, Allies, and Enemies - Arriving in the special world, the hero encounters a succession of challenges and characters, some who help, some who hinder, some who do both. Although mistakes will be made.

8. Approach to the Innermost Cave - Having overcome the preliminary challenges and obstacles, the hero must penetrate the most restricted place of the quest. It is only here that the hero may find the elixir.

9. Ordeal - Within the innermost cave, the hero must face the greatest obstacle.

10. Reward - Using skills gleaned from the adventure defeats and take the elixir.

11. The Road Back - Hero must return to the ordinary world with the elixir, however, the enemy may be in hot pursuit. At the point the hero often undergoes some death experience.

12. Resurrection - The worthy hero is reborn. The process of rebirth is a culmination of the hero’s transformation. He/she has learned from the challenges. Makes it back alive to the ordinary world.

13. Return with Elixir - Once crossing back into the ordinary world with elixir that restores the balance to the world. Having died and been reborn, the hero is an older, wiser, and better person for having gone on the quest. Supernatural powers and abilities gained in the “special world” are often lost in the ordinary world.



Myths, Folk and Fairy Tales

Which came first the chicken or the egg? In our case, Mythology did, and from Mythology was born folk tales, then fairy tales, and last but not least the genre we call fantasy.

Folk tales, the stories that parents told their children, often heavily steeped with a moral, as well as violent.

Fairy stories were more formed that folk tales.

Read: Grimm’s Cinderella & How Fairy Tales Deal with Evil by Verena Kast [page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4]



Science Fiction and Fantasy treat War a little different.

In Fantasy, war is most often expressed as the hero vs the villain, or the swordsman vs the magician, or the good magician vs the sorcerer.

Read: Fantasy “War” from Rabkin

In Science Fiction, war is most often expressed as a problem that is happening in the real world. Costuming it within the pages of a novel it can be discussed; consequences, solutions, hypotheses can be made and written about.

Read: “War” from The Place of Science Fiction [page 1, page 2]


Here are some things that really interested me from The Magical World of Harry Potter.

Alchemy [page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4] -- Goblins, Slytherins & Mirrors [page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5, page 6, page 7]

Well, that’s all for now, peeps.

Fraser: Stop stealing the blanket.
[Diefenbaker whines]
Fraser: You're an Arctic Wolf, for God's sake.
(Due South)

Hatter: Do I need a reason to help a pretty girl in a very wet dress? (Alice)

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— William Shakespeare