Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fantastic Elements of Fantasy Fiction with a Side of Science Fiction

Victoria Rader serves them up:

For me I feel that fantasy fiction is a combination of the real and the imagined, the tangible and the intangible, as well as the rational and irrational. C.S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew and Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsong are such examples that use each of these elements. The difference, of course, is that Dragonsong tends to lean more towards science-fiction that presents itself as fantasy. Narnia, the in-between, and Charn, are all realistic worlds. Pern is also fairly realistic, the only things that make it different than our world is the Thread and, well, the dragons. Each of these places relate to our own world and have many of the same elements, even though they may seem drastically different.

For an example of the real element in The Magician's Nephew, we turn to Charn. In Charn, the sun is visible in the sky is the same as ours, but still...different. After waking Jadis, Digory notices the sun.

"Was it the Deplorable Word that made the sun like that?" asked Digory.
"Like what?" asked Jadis.
"So big, so red, and so cold."
"It has always been so," said Jadis. "At least, for hundreds of thousands of years. Have you a different sort of sun in your world?"
"Yes, it's smaller and yellower. And it gives a good deal more heat." (Lewis 42)

Jadis then goes on to realize that Digory and Polly come from a much younger world than that of Charn. This different type of sun is one that is completely imaginable in our own world. We often hear of how our own sun will eventually collapse on itself after cooling down and becoming like the sun of Charn: red and cold.

Most of Pern is the same as our own world, even if it seems a few decades (or perhaps centuries) behind our modern conveniences. The community works together for the benefit of everyone and people have designated positions within society: to keep people safe, to organize the obtainment of food and goods, to educate, etc. Dragonsong is perhaps one of the easiest novels we have read that relates so easily to our own world.

Returning to The Magician's Nephew, not all of Charn is similar to our own world. We, for one, don't have one of the imagined elements: magic or curses. At least not in the same capacity as that of Charn. Jadis says "I spoke the Deplorable Word. A moment later I was the only living thing beneath the sun" (Lewis 41). With just one word, this woman destroyed her entire world. Luckily for us, nobody on earth has a power like that (even if they may have tools that could result in something similar). Jadis herself is also a prime example of both the real and the unreal. Humans all have the capacity to be evil, just like Jadis. Many people in the real world would be more than willing to go to the same extremes that Jadis does in order to gain power and control. If humans had the same type of power that Jadis has, we would be utterly screwed.

Imagined elements in Dragonsong include the Thread, dragons, and fire lizards. Thankfully, we have nothing like Thread. Falling from the sky, "Thread could burrow into the seagrass stalks, or slide down the marshberry and seablum bushes, burrow in the roots, multiply and eat anything green and growing until the coast was as bare as a rock" (McCaffrey 15). It could also burn the skin with little hope of recovery. Imagine, something constantly falling from the sky with little warning that could destroy any source of food and potentially physically injure you!

Tangible elements in The Magician's Nephew include the simple things such as the magic rings that Uncle Andrew gives to Digory and Polly. These are physical objects that one can touch and see and play with. The intangible part is again, the magic that comes along with them. It just is. There is no proof of its existence, no way to test whether or not it is real. We are given the story from the eyes of the children. In a way, this could also be a real element if one assumes that the children are simply using their imaginations with the rings. After all, their entire adventure could be one that they thought up in their heads and the rings were just a prop or tool that their imaginations needed.

Dragonsong's tangible element is also its intangible element as well. The fire lizards, also an imagined element, become many things to their owners. The fire lizards that Menolly had fed at birth basically imprinted on her. The next morning "Menolly had been absolutely stunned to wake with the unaccustomed weight of warm bodies around her. Scared, too, until the little creatures roused, with strong thoughts of renewed hunger and love and affection for her" (McCaffrey 93). They were also somehow mentally connected to Menolly, and she was driven to feed and care for them as if they were her own children. The fire lizards also end up fiercely protective of Menolly. Finally, in a surprise to even those that know about and possess fire lizards, Menolly's lizards even learn to sing with her, "They finished the song with the fire lizards humming obediently along with Menolly. Mirrim demanded then to know how on earth Menolly had gotten her lizards to sing with her" (McCaffrey 160).

Children of all ages and walks of life have worries. Polly and Digory are no different. Their worries make up the rational elements of The Magician's Nephew. The poem in front of the bell in Charn reads "Make your choice, adventurous Stranger; / Strike the bell and bide the danger, / Or wonder, till it drives you mad, / What would have followed if you had" (35). The very real worry of what would happen is something that anyone would have to think about had they come into this world. On the other hand, it's the things that the pair have to worry about that are the irrational things. In our world if the pair rang a bell the worst thing that they would have to worry about would be breaking it or getting sent to bed without dinner. In Charn they have to worry about waking up an evil witch that could destroy more than one world!

Menolly also has great worries to account for the rational elements. Being an amazing musician, she naturally wanted to be the Harper for her community in the Hold. Throughout the novel, she is fighting against oppressive social codes and trying to find her place in society. The Threadfall also helps to make up for the irrational element within the novel. As I said before, we do not have to worry about a natural element falling from the sky and putting all of our lives in danger. I mean, sure, we have meteorites and other things falling from space, but most of that burns up in our atmosphere before it can hit earth, and on the occasion that it does hit earth, injuries are rare. The people of Pern actually have official dragon riders to kill the Thread before it hits the earth. Imagine if we had people flying through the sky trying to burn up meteorites!

Many people would argue that Dragonsong is a science fiction novel, but I believe science fiction and fantasy fiction to be strongly related, and sometimes I think it is hard to separate the two. Fantasy and science fiction have so many different elements to them, and I've briefly touched on some that I found to be the most strikingly interesting. There is so much more to explore when it comes to the real/unreal, rational/irrational, and the tangible/intangible elements of these and other stories. I feel as though these six elements are present in one way or another in every fantasy and science fiction novel, and are the makings of a wonderful escape from this world, even though they can relate so closely to our own reality. Perhaps fantasy, science fiction, and our world aren't all that different after all.

Works Cited
Lewis, C.S. The Magician's Nephew. In The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: HarperEntertainment, 2005. Print.
McCaffrey, Anne. Dragonsong. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2003. Print.

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