For decades, fantasy stories have had a tendency to take place in what some would call the Traditional Fantasy Setting. While variations and origins might vary, at their most basic, many fantasy stories revolve around a traditional formula of humans, elves, dwarves and maybe some other races, all living in a medieval, pseudo-European land. This has been the case in large part due to the success of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, which has left a lasting mark upon the entire fantasy genre. For better or worse this legacy has heavily shaped fantasy novels across the decades.
While outliers have appeared now and then, such as Ursula K. Le Guin and Roger Zelazny, fantasy has had a tendency towards taking place in medieval pseudo-European settings- the Shannara series, the Sword of Truth novels, and many of the works by Dennis L. McKiernan. Though these fantasy worlds will vary, some may include elves and dwarves, some may not, the vast majority tend to take place in a cultural backdrop highly reminiscent of Medieval Europe. But this does not have to always be the case. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the traditional fantasy setting, neither is there anything lost in exploring other possibilities with more original fantasy settings. This entry of Xlibris Writing Tips seeks to share some 3 Examples of Original Fantasy Settings to help authors think about your own fantasy stories.
Isles of Fantasy
A prominent example of a non-traditional fantasy setting is that of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series. First printed in the 1960’s, the Earthsea novels and novellas take place on a vast archipelago the author based more heavily on Indonesia and the Philippines. The largest of the islands is about the size of Britain. The peoples and cultures tend to reflect real-life Pacific Island descent as well as Native American.
While Earthsea is a predominantly Iron Age setting, bronze will be used where iron is scarce. Magic and morality in the Earthsea setting carries a more East Asian influence, particularly that of Taoism. ‘Good’ magic in Earthsea tends to work in harmony the natural world and the natural order of things, with an example of ‘evil’ magic being necromancy (animating and enslaving the dead), something which breaks and defiles the natural order.
A more recent example of a non-traditional fantasy setting can be found in D.J. Butler’s debut novel Witchy Eye. Combining elements of alternative history with fantasy, Witchy Eye takes place in an alternate North America, where the American Revolution took a slightly different turn. Instead of forming themselves into the democratic United States, the newly independent colonies formed an empire not unlike the Holy Roman Empire.
Thus readers experience a version of America inspired by both colonial history and folktales, in a world where magic is real and has played a role in history (such as Oliver Cromwell having been a notorious necromancer on top of his historical infamy). Due to its setting, Witchy Eye is somewhat unusual in fantasy for its inclusion of firearms and gunpowder alongside the fantastical. Magic in Witchy Eye tends to be based on real-life folktales and belief systems.
Another unorthodox fantasy setting is that of a modernized fantasy. While not set in a version of modern day earth, the modernized fantasy nonetheless contains the trappings and conventions recognizable and contemporary to the modern reader. Language, social conventions and practices are notably recognizable to readers as modern in concept and execution. A prime example of a modernized fantasy is that of the Craft Sequence, a series of somewhat connected novels by author Max Gladstone, all taking place in the same general world and setting.
In the Craft Sequence, magic has effectively replaced technology in seeing to the needs of civilization. It is the means by which large enough crops and resources are harnessed to support massive city populations. It is the means by which wars are waged. It is even by magic that water safely and cleanly travels through pipes into peoples’ homes. Thus the world of the Craft Sequence features cities and metropolises comparable in size and population to such real life cities as London, Mexico City, and Hong Kong. Gods and pantheons are essentially corporations wielding magic to satisfy their worshippers, their consumers. Mortals who learn to wield magic, sorcerers, learn to create, dismantle, and renegotiate magical contracts.
Yes, in the Craft Sequence mortal sorcerers are essentially lawyers.
Xlibris Publishing hopes these above examples inspire and show writers the possibilities for fantasy settings when you think outside the box.
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By Ian Smith