Have you ever wondered how the fantasy genre developed? Do you understand how knowing its history can help you write better fantasy? Join me as we delve into its origins.
Any exploration of fantasy needs to examine the ancient epics. These are tales such as Gilgamesh, Illiad and Odssey. For those who are wondering, epic simply comes from the greek language and means ‘word’ or ‘story.’ Quite fitting really. The original Homeric tales (Named after their creator), the Odyssey and Illiad were created to be spoken orally, and only later written down in the form of a poem.
We can trace their success through medieval literature, with many of Shakespeare’s plays relying heavily on poetry, and then on into Tolkien’s Middle Earth. There are a great many poems and ballads in Tolkien’s works and much of this is due to the foundation on which his worlds are built. Ancient history.
The epics introduce multiple ideas that are now staples of modern fantasy. The Odyssey’s vast journey, exploration of human nature, magical elements as shown by the gods, an examination of spirituality, strange worlds and wars. The epics such as Gilgamesh are successful stories retold today, because despite the archaic language, they contain so many things things we as readers now take for granted.
Do you want strange mythical beasts, how about Centaurs and Minotaurs? Do you want crazy strategic battles, how about Troy? What about magic, then how about the power of the gods? Strange worlds, old mentors, messages in dreams. The epics have them in abundance. In fact, it is even argued Lucian’s “A True Story” was the first ever piece of Science Fiction, penned thousands of years ago. The icing on the cake is perhaps the invocation of the muse. Who amongst us does not at some point refer to our muse? Each of the Greek epics pray to the muse, a daughter of Zeus.
We have much to thank them for. It’s incredible that thousands of years after they were created they are so relevant. The basic structure of story flows from these poems. Don’t be afraid of giving a more modern version a read, or of thanking the ancients for inspiration. All the greats did. All the greats do.