One of the important and first things that must be remembered when dealing with fantasy or with any other genre- or even any subculture-is they all have their Own Vernacular that outsiders might not understand. Concepts someone well versed in the subject might take for granted can be confusing to a stranger. An excellent example of this happened when I was talking to someone about one of the chapters in my book about fantasy tropes. She is not at all versant in fantasy. Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings, these are things that she’s heard of vaguely, but not actually read. She prefers non-genre novels and the closest she gets to fantasy is Magical Realism. I was discussing dwarves.
The short and hairy folk with a fondness for gold and hammers and axes. At least, that’s what dwarves means to me. They’re a separate race of people.
She, on the other hand, thought I was talking about people with dwarfism. And the entire time I was going on about how they were a separate race completely confused her. After all, they’re humans, too, aren’t they? I can’t even imagine what she thought of me when I was talking about them!
But the reason for the confusion was because, though we were using the same words, we speaking in two different languages.
I was speaking the language of the knowledgeable expert and she was listening with the ears of a lay person.
Because of this we entered confusion. It doesn’t seem like there would be such confusion, but the experts often times take it for granted that everyone else knows what they’re talking about. After all it seems so natural and obvious to us, shouldn’t everyone know that dwarves are a separate race than humans and elves? Look at the Lord of the Rings or the D&D Games or mythology even for proof of this. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help if the other person hasn’t actually read any of the proof providing material
The particular language of fantasy is one with deep roots. One that goes back to the earliest days of storytelling. It’s why people say that all fantasy stories are the same. Which in a way is completely true, but only because fantasy stories require certain elements to be fantasy stories. It may not necessarily be dwarves that are needed, but there are still certain aspects that are repeated throughout.
It is these sorts of things that I shall mostly be discussing within this space.
Before we go on any further I would like to get some important definitions out of the way. These are my definitions of these words and concepts that I’ll be using throughout my writing here. Are they the be all, end all of definitions? No, but these are what I consider to be useful and are presented here so that we may have a common point of reference and don’t end up with a dwarf misunderstanding.
Fantasy: This is the important one, isn’t it? Fantasy is any story that involves magic. There can be technology involved, but it still has to involve magic. This definition doesn’t include time travel stories where the guy from the future goes into the past with technology and wows the poor backwards people into thinking that his objects are magic.(IE. Clarke’s third law.) Unless said time travel was caused by magic. Considering the existence of Urban Fantasy, this is entirely possible. It could even be possible that the “technology” used to wow the poor people of the past is magical, but if it’s not, then it’s not fitting into my definition of fantasy.
Magic: Which then leads one to ask, “what then is magic, if significantly advanced technology doesn’t count even though the technobabble certainly sounds like magic?” For me, magic has always been something inherent in the world since primitive times. Not everyone may have it. Not everyone may know about it. But it is this force, energy, something that has been around that can be wielded by individuals, be it through technology or their blood. Technology is things that have yet to be, magic is things that have always been.
Primary World: The primary world is Earth. Our world. Sometimes it’s the setting with magic, sometimes it’s the starting place before the adventure begins. Most Urban Fantasies are primary world stories.
Secondary World: This is a world that is not Earth. A great deal of fantasy stories take place in secondary worlds. Some stories, like the Chronicles of Narnia, may start out in the primary world and end up in the secondary world. Other stories, like the Wheel of Time always exist in the secondary world.
Admittedly, some worlds are a bit tricky to place, like the Lord of the Rings which, according to the author’s conceit, is Earth, but ages ago. But these definitions don’t have to be hard and true. They’re here to create a common language.
Other definitions may be added as time goes on, but for now these are good enough to start a discussion.