Nature and magic fuel fantasy fiction settings and plots

epic landscape

Epic adventure requires an epic setting. Read on and consider how fantasy novels blend magic with the grandeur of Nature to create powerful entertainment.

Two of the most common elements in fantasy novels are Nature and magic. They are linked to each other and exulted as ideals in fantasy worlds. This creates much of what fantasy readers find appealing in fantasy fiction because the glorification of Nature and magic is a pleasing opponent to the concrete, steel, and technology that overwhelms modern life.

Characters in fantasy novels often must cross hostile wastes, brave cold mountain passes, and lose their way in dark primeval forests. In fact, readers of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” would agree that most of the story takes place outdoors. And in Christopher Paolini’s “Inheritance” trilogy, the hero Eragon and his dragon Saphira spend long stretches of the story in deserts, forests, and mountains.

Escape into Nature

The emphasis on Nature within the fantasy genre adds to its ability to entertain with escapism. Nature is lacking from much of modern life, and imagining adventure and freedom upon the open land is a relief and a pleasure. Often while reading fantasy fiction, you can recall the security that your ancestors took from the bright crackle of a fire while camping upon a hostile plain. Or, you can summon up that natural fear of being alone among the trees when you feel that something is hunting you.

And the partner of Nature in the fantasy genre is magic. It acts as the fulcrum of the struggles in the story. Plots are often driven by rivalries between magic users, or the forces of good battle with the aid of magic against evil enemies. In fantasy settings, magic is what confers power whether it is on individuals or ruling elites as opposed to technology that empowers the real world.

In fantasy fiction, the supernatural is valid and science is little used. Exploring the wonders of a world run by magic engages readers because it brings them closer to the mysteries of Nature. Magic comes from the natural world, and depending on the story, sometimes the Gods, and fantasy enthusiasts are comfortable with magic as a source of power.

Magic acts as a nice foil to the technology that is omnipresent in modern life for most people. Technology is powerful and amazing and seems quite magical, but deep down everyone knows that it can be explained. That it is all wires and chips and circuits and software and that many people know how to make it and manipulate it. Factories spit out millions of awesome gadgets, televisions, and computer mother boards. Technology simply lacks that special exclusivity that magic has in a fantasy novel. Not everyone in a fantasy story has magical powers, and powerful items aren’t as easy to come by as a cell phone.

A Pre-Industrial Literature

The foundation of Nature and magic that holds up many fantasy settings appeals to fantasy readers because people often have a longing for a simpler world un-blighted by highways and exhaust fumes. Within Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” there are undertones in this epic that suggest a wistful regret for the loss of Nature to the rise of industry. For example, the place Isengard is described as once being green and having “groves of fruitful trees” but the corrupt Saruman spoiled the land to build an army. “Iron wheels revolved there endlessly, and hammers thudded.” Tolkien wrote.

Many authors give much effort to describing Nature’s beauty and awesome power. That which destroys Nature is portrayed as evil and rightly so. And magic is often portrayed as superior to technology because it is akin to Nature. A nice example of this is presented in Paolini’s second novel “Eldest” in which he writes how the elves sing plants and trees into accommodating shapes and shelters.

Technology is not absent from fantasy literature, but it has a lesser presence in society. Fantasy settings are typically cast in pre-industrial agricultural and merchant societies. Technology is limited to trades and crafts, which are much more pleasing and benign than real world factories and nuclear power plants.

The natural world is one of my primary inspirations. I can look at the Pacific Ocean and hear it tell me a thousand stories all at once with lapping waves and the tireless roar of the powerful water.

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