Thoughts, Opinions, Gripes, and Grievances

Kian Pfannenstiel, Writer

Fantasy is a major genre in a lot of media, including books, movies, television, comic books/graphic novels, and games of both the table-top and the video variety. For the most part, it takes place in a classic fantasy setting. If it doesn’t immediately occur to you what exactly that is, I don’t really blame you. But, so you aren’t left confused, that is the same style of fantasy you have in the Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. You have dwarves that live in mines or caves, elves that are magical tree huggers, and the race of man that loves conquest.

It is my belief that this fantasy genre is overused. I don’t blame people for writing books in this classic fantasy genre, it is easier to come up with a world to tell your story in if you have a starting place that everyone understands. That said, this fantasy genre wasn’t always the norm. John R. R. Tolkien revolutionized the fantasy epic. He changed the way races looked, making elves tall and fair, hobbits fat and hairy-footed, and dwarves stocky. He also changed the way societies lived. He made the dwarves a mining and crafting people, while the elves are a magical people that live in tandem with forests or revines while the hobbits were of a peaceful, edenic society. Not only did he do all of this, he created a unique pantheon of deities and creation stories with a fully flushed out world containing cultures, religions, and political tensions. But, his greatest feat was, without a doubt, changing the way we spell “elves”. When he first published The Hobbit and as he continued to publish The Lord of the Rings he constantly fought with the editors who insisted that they change every instance of “elves” to “elfs.”

After Tolkien revolutionized fantasy epics, people jumped on the Arda bandwagon. People loved the rich lore of Tolkiens Middle-Earth (Arda) so much that they took a huge amount of it, stealing the elves’ nature-mindedness and the dwarves’ craftsmanship. Sometimes, however, someone breaks the mold and creates a totally unique fantasy setting.

Famous puppeteer Jim Henson is most well known for creating The Muppet Show and the monsters of Sesame Street (before any of you Sesame Street fans jump down my throat for calling them monsters, remember that they are canonically called monsters). He isn’t so well known for his movie The Dark Crystal, primarily because it was a flop and it sucked. While the movie did kind of suck, there is a good reason for it: Jim Henson wanted to put way more stuff in the movie than he could fit into 90 minutes, so he had to pick and choose what got in, and without all of the things he wanted in the movie, it just felt incomplete.

But enough of me justifying The Dark Crystal being a bad movie, allow me to explain why this setting is so great: it has nothing from classic fantasy, and if you read and watch all of the material for The Dark Crystal, it stops being terrible and becomes pretty good because you understand everything. There is a 3-part comic book series and a short manga series that serve as precludes to the movie, if you’re interested. The entire cast of characters aren’t human. There are two gelflings, urRu (called Mystics), who are the benevolent counterparts to the malevolent Skeksis. At the end of the movie, each of the ten Mystics merges with one of the ten Skeksis to become their original race, the UrSkeks. Those are the major species in this setting, but there are many more. There are podlings, Garthim, Crystal Bats, Land Striders, Nebrie, and many others, including varieties of sentient flora. I highly encourage you learn more about Thra (the world The Dark Crystal takes place on), and if you do, Wikipedia is a good place to start. Or, of course, you could read the comic books/manga and watch the movie.

To give you an idea of what Thra looks like and how unique it is, look at these:

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What’s so great about Thra is that it screams fantasy but it doesn’t do it in the ways you’re used to. The house or cave or whatever-it-is in the top picture is awesome. It glows, it kind of looks like it might be something’s home, and you’ve never seen it before, despite it just being a cave. And I have no idea what the thing in the bottom picture is, but it’s cool. It looks to me like it is some weird amalgamation of animals and insects. But it is clearly unique and the likes of it just haven’t been seen anywhere else.

This imagination in a fantasy setting should be more prevalent, with new flora and fauna at the very least in every publication. As I see it, there really are no excuses to write in a fantasy setting without doing something unique that requires creative effort.