Fantasy, as a genre, existed for millennia as myths and legends. Many of those ancient stories still resonate with audiences today. When I was young, my grandmother read the Arabian Tales to me so often that I would recite it along with her, long before I learned to read.
Science Fiction has more difficulty staying relevant. I love reading stories by authors like Jules Verne and H. G. Wells who tried to weave (to varying degrees) the scientific thought of the time into interesting and intriguing stories, but much of their “knowledge” appears quaint and backward against what we know today.
One hundred years ago, H.P. Lovecraft was just getting started, having published a couple of short stories. Edgar Rice Burroughs had created the Tarzan series and the Barsoom (John Carter of Mars) series. Frank L. Baum’s Oz series was going strong after having started in 1900. Fantastic stories or weird tales were lumped together; the genre hadn’t coalesced the rules about what is and is not fantasy.
In 1924, Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter brought elves back into popular fantasy. The creatures had been a common element in Western European folklore all the way back to the Old Norse mythologies. In the late 1930’s, Tolkien took those elves and dwarves and orcs and made them icons.
Some of what might have been Science Fiction one hundred years ago has now slipped into the realm of Fantasy.
Today, those fantastic stories have branched out, forming several genres with blurred boundaries and a variety of popular tropes.
A Low Fantasy is a world where magic exists but isn’t prevalent, where life is primitive and hard.
A High Fantasy draws on Tolkienesque elements for inspiration with elves and dwarves, with magic and epic scale.
Urban Fantasies marry magic and faery creatures with modern cities, frequently with some interaction with our own world.
Grimdark fantasies are dystopian tales where people die, even people you care about, especially people you care about.
Steampunk combines the Victorian age with its love of automation and steam power with a dose of magic and wonder.
Sailpunk moves that back to the swashbuckling times of the Age of Sail.
Historical Fantasies take historical events and add magical dimensions and secret connotations.
Sword and Sorcery is an older form of fantasy, one that draws on the work of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber with muscular heroes battling dark evil.
Dark Fantasy contains elements of horror.
As time goes on, things become more specialized. We see that with the fantastic stories of the 1900's evolving into the genres listed above.
I think that tells us what to expect for the future. Genre will become more complex until it’s a multi-dimensional matrix of tropes and anti-tropes. I’d like a story with a female hero in a coming of age story set in London in 1972 with elemental magic and pixies. Tomorrow, I'd prefer a middle-aged male hero escaping from an evil empire like the Mughal Empire and then having to go back and save the man he loves. My wife would like a tale about an orphan who learns she’s The Chosen One from a prophecy in the time of the Ancient pre-Hellenic Greeks.
And would you like that with a Grimdark helping of “everybody dies”?
Because in 100 years, when we’re all cyborgs, driving in our flying cars to the shores of a lake of liquid methane on the moon of Titan to take a selfie with Saturn rising behind us, we will still be reading fantasy to help us escape from our humdrum lives to a simpler time, a time where we can experience the danger of battle and the joy of glorious victory.
Title: The Snowtiger’s Trail
Author: Watson Davis
Genre: Dark Fantasy/Swords and Sorcery
Welcome to Windhaven and the Wrath of the Wizard-King!
A deposed Wizard-king leads his ragged band of followers to the last town before the Far Waste and hides there from his vengeful queen while building an army to re-take his rightful kingdom. A regular army won't do for the Wizard-king. He needs something deadlier, something magical, something demonic.
When Wallak of the Bright Fox tribe wakes up from a night of carousing in the town of Windhaven, he can't find his nephew. He can't return to his tribe alone, but if he discovers his nephew’s whereabouts, he may never return to his tribe at all.
This is a swords and sorcery tale of dark, soul-twisting magic where no-one is safe.
I ripped the guard’s sword from my belt and charged toward that smug son of a fuzzworm, screaming my lungs out. Behind me, Deral yelled, “No, Uncle Wallak! Don’t!”
The creatures and people around me screamed and cried, retreating to the backs of their cages. The man lowered his hand to his belt, attaching the keys, his left hand going to the hilt of a sword on his hip.
My foot hit a patch of that slippery amber liquid on the floor and shot out from under me. I stumbled forward and fell, throwing myself to the ground, rolling and rising to my feet barely missing a step.
The bastard grinned, but he hadn’t reacted, hadn’t drawn his blade, hadn’t set himself to attack or defend. I had a clear shot against a defenseless man.
He was that sure he was that much faster than I was.
While irritating, I realized he could be right. He could be fast enough to counter any attack I had at that point. I needed to be tricky. So, I chopped down at him as I got closer, but instead of running through the attack, I leaned back and slid feet first toward him on the slick stone. I hoped I’d tangle his feet with mine, and if that didn’t work, that my blade would be coming to him at an unexpected angle and catch him by surprise, slicing his manhood off and disemboweling him at the same time.
Or maybe knock the keys off his belt.
His sword moved as if by magic. He was standing there and then he wasn’t. His sword swept out in a graceful arc to where I would have been and almost was, but luckily not to where I ended up. The breeze of it whipped over my face.
My blade also met nothing but a memory.
He leaped forward, further down the row of cages, but the momentum from my slide took me through the door into the room with the tables and carcasses. I sprang to my feet and ran between two of the tables before whirling, striking with a blind backhand stroke of my sword, hoping the hugger-mugger had come up behind me. But he hadn’t, so my sword hit nothing but empty air.
The door that had been locked stood open, and it led into a long, dark corridor with more doors leading off.
The swordsman stood in the room with the cages, in the room with Deral, with both of his hands on the hilt of his sword, holding the sword out before him angled toward the ground. His black eyes glared at me, narrowing with hate, which was a step in the right direction as far as I was concerned.
A pincer lashed out from between the bars toward the swordsman’s head. His sword slashed around in an arc, the blade slicing through the pincer and its armor like a scythe through the tall grass. The boy-thing squealed, a horrid, disturbing screeching. The sword darted out once more, this time jabbing into the cage, and the keening stopped.
And his sword was back, held before him, angling toward the ground, but now with blood dripping down the length of it.
I raised my left hand, palm toward him, and said, “Listen. I just want my nephew. That’s it. Well, and the girl he came in with. Those two, that’s it.”
He crab-walked out of the room, holding his sword before him in the same position the entire time. I’d never seen anyone move that way before, so awkward and so smooth at the same time.
“I don’t want any trouble.” I backed away from him, wincing, my side hurting where the healer had patched me up. I pressed my left hand against it and my hand came away sticky and damp, red with blood. “You guys can do whatever you want with Ancliff or Windhaven or whatever, but let me take my nephew and his girlfriend.”
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