Themes in Fantasy Fiction / Novels

Themes in Fantasy Novels

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Themes are the overarching unifying idea that is at the core of a novel. Such themes form an integral part of Fantasy fiction which is a full fledged genre by its own right. Many authors speak of themselves as Fantasy authors. Even when YA (Young Adult) is considered an indivisible genre, Publisher’s Marketplace makes the exception of a separate category of YA Fantasy/Children’s Fantasy.

As such Fantasy is part of the overarching Science Fiction & Fantasy (SFF) genre which contain writings of various fields that can spread from Science Fiction, Speculative, Near Future, Dystopian, Fantasy, Horror, Weird, Slip Stream, to those based on Mythology, Fables, Superhero, Supernatural and Magical Realism.

Table of Contents

  1. Fiction Themes and Writing Craft
  2. Themes in Fantasy
  3. (A) Epic Journey
  4. (B) Love
  5. (C) Redemption and Courage
  6. (D) Revenge
  7. Themes and Story Ideas

Fiction Themes and Writing Craft

It is not that just because Fantasy is an esoteric arena, and many readers are not able to connect with this genre, that the stories in this genre are something different to other genres of Literary, Crime-Fiction, Women-Fiction, Romance etc. It is only the finer emphasis and the setting / world building that the stories of these genres differ from Fantasy. Otherwise, the themes follow similar sentiments. In some ways, while genres like Crime Fiction, Women Fiction, Romance etc have a very small focus, Fantasy can have a wide focus like General Fiction except that the world building in case of Fantasy is not the real world, it can be an alt-Earth or a completely different imaginary world.

This wider landscape of writing gives great flexibility to the Fantasy writers regarding the kind of imagination and the scope of a story. The Fantasy stories unlike General Fiction can span across centuries and touch civilizations. It can have people and creatures of all imagination. It can have various dimensions, and it can have portals. A very important part of Fantasy is considered the presence of Magic in a story. But there can be “low-fantasy” stories that may not have magic in them, but nonetheless they are considered Fantasy because of the setting and fantastic people and creatures.

Themes in Fantasy

In general, the themes of a Fantasy novels can span many overlapping themes. For example Good vs Evil can be found as a regular theme and can span from individual to societies and conflict between societies and civilizations, but often these are not necessarily explicit and can be found in a subtle manner in the more specific trends like the following:

(A) Epic Journey

This theme can involve many branches like Coming of Age (a theme in YA Fantasy), or Hero’s Journey, or can encompass even an Adventure to find something eg. to find lost magic, and the adventure consists of all the learning on the way and the ways to overcome all difficulties and resolve the conflicts inherent in the story. Sometimes the adventure can be to become part of a mission to save something or save a group of people. At times, as part of the epic journey, the main character is able to realize one’s own latent power. Such power can be having magical or supernatural abilities.

(B) Love

This is often found in Fantasy Romance books. However Romance by itself in Fantasy books are not like the pure Romance genre. Here the romance and love element is usually intertwined with larger questions of saving a kingdom, protection of one’s family and can involve magic. There can betrayals as well. In such a theme, there can be espionage or palace intrigue.

(C) Redemption and Courage

These two are often taken differently, but can be seen in a similar vein. Redemption is overcoming internal challenges (man vs himself), whereas Courage is overcoming external challenges. In either case, the theme relates to overcoming one’s deficiency to reach a higher level of existence whether at personal level or at a public level. When one is able to overcome ones internal deficiencies and internal conflicts, only then one is able to overcome the external challenges. This theme also contains link to realization aspect of one’s personality. This realization aspect is also common with the epic journey theme.

(D) Revenge

This is the conflict between the person and the enemy. However, these can be very nuanced with many grey shades. This theme can explore moral dilemmas, coming to terms, greater realisation, exploring of one’s values. Again these revenge stories can have elements from the above themes, like love, betrayal, moral courage and so on. Sometimes revenge can be due to past happenings where the main character has undergone certain experiences and they have no option, perhaps morally duty bound to take such a course of action.

Themes and Story Ideas

Story ideas do not exist in isolation, but are intricately linked to many elements. One can see, that these themes relate to story and primarily are concerned with the “Main Character.” However, despite having a great character, a Fantasy novel should also have other attendant elements like a great world building, elements of Magic, fantastic people or creatures which go into making of the fantasy element. In a way, the “fantasy elements” go into making of plot devices that keep the story moving. And if the fantasy element is taken out, then the story falls flat.

Similarly, elements like Prophesy and Chosen One are plot device rather than a theme because prophesy can be anything, and chosen one can be anyone. The point being when we ask a question like, “what is the story about?” – answering such a question forms the basis of theme.

The landscape of Fantasy writing is wide. While writing, it is alluring to meander into many different paths and push in various characters with their own motivations and objectives. It is therefore, much better to focus on a few characters and keep the theme within a manageable limit with specific elements.

© Anup Mukherjee

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