My thoughts of late have been heading in a million different directions, but one thing keeps cropping back up into my mind.
What constitutes fantasy literature?
Is it the characters, the story, the locale? Is it a specific group of elements to include, or criteria to adhere to within the plot itself?
Wikipedia defines fantasy as “a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting.” Phenomena are, by definition, unnatural or extraordinary occurrences.
I’ve been thinking lately about the genre in which I’m writing. The First is not an epic fantasy like Tolkien’s beloved masterpiece, though it does contain some elements of high fantasy. However, it also mirrors some elements of low fantasy, such as the fact that the fantastical elements are not always the main focus of the story. Then there is the steampunk aspect. No, this is not a steampunk novel (though I have one in mind for a future novel), but it does sneak its way in from time to time.
Mythic fantasy is what I believe to be the most accurate description for The First. Why? Well, isn’t all fantasy in some way based on certain aspects of one mythology or another? No matter how original we think we are, the human mind pulls from the shared collective knowledge of the past, the archetypes and myths that have been passed from culture to culture since the beginning of time.
Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces explains and categorizes these archetypes and patterns, showing how almost everything seems to derive from the same ideas repeatedly. Is that a bad thing? Certainly not. In fact, I find it fascinating that I can begin writing a novel with a basic outline but absolutely no thought of following a pattern, only to inadvertently do exactly that. Obviously, as someone who teaches these concepts to students every year, I’m familiar with them. I recognize them everywhere I go. Except in my own writing.
Until we talked about Star Wars.
Now, I’ve used Star Wars to discuss archetypes in class so many times I’ve lost count. I know the Hero’s Journey when I see it. Almost any book or movie follows the pattern in some way or another.
Suddenly, in the middle of class, I laugh aloud to myself. A few students look at me oddly, but my mirth comes from within: a private joke I’m sharing with myself. The First, like most stories, follows the patterns that weave through our collective unconscious. Although the novel has its own unique style and esoteric plot elements, many things still resonate with the ghosts of epics past.
Writing this book is allowing me to weave my own tapestry of words and follow in those timeless footsteps. Creating that connection to our history, our ancestors, and all of humanity—even if only in a very small way—is the greatest legacy I can leave.