1. Galadriel says:

    OOH! Clever observation. Let me think about how that plays out in some of my favorite stories…
    Doctor Who: Just about every companion is having a normal-ish day when they meet the Doctor. Rose is working at a shop, Martha is doing rounds at a hospital, and Amy is a little girl afraid of monsters. Okay, Donna’s getting married, but the details of getting back to the wedding are very much emphasised.
    A Wrinkle in Time has Meg as a stubborn girl whose father is missing—a scenario even more common today than when the book was written.
    Auralia’s Thread series: I’d be hard put to define how this book eases the transition. Maybe by just having ordinary-talking characters find the main character. They talk like you’d expect old, slightly less than respectable men to talk.

  2. Sherwood Smith says:

    This theory also works for the popularity of Harry Potter–though longtime fantasy readers can point to worldbuilding problems that you could drive a truck through, the greater portion of the world that does not read fantasy found Harry Potter midway between our world and the other world. (It also helped that Rowling used tropes from the Sports Story, and especially rejuvenated the Boarding School Story, once immensely popular, though not so much in the past fifty years.)

    • Great example, Sherwood. Rowling did indeed create a thoroughly relatable boy in a “normal” world, and her fantasy realm has reminders of the normal everywhere–celebrating holidays, school books and bullies, and sports, as you mentioned. Yes, she used the everyday to pull in readers and bridge the gap to the magical.

      I thought of Stephen Lawhead–even did a post about it on my own site. 🙂


  3. Literaturelady says:

    First author who comes to mind is Rachel Starr Thomson!  The first chapter of Worlds Unseen begins with a town of familiar sights: an orphanage, a train, a courteous passer-by.  When Maggie gets home (to her shabby but sturdy house with peeling paint on the shutters), she sits in an armchair and has a cup of tea.  Then a visitor arrives, bringing with him tales of extraordinary truths.  The prologue also begins in a more-or-less familiar setting: a stone cottage with a bubbling pot and a woman working at embroidery.
    I think you’ve hit on a great reason why Narnia and Middle Earth are so appealing and so enduring!  This is an aspect of world-creating that I had never fully considered, so thank you for posting!

    • Kessie says:

      I did enjoy the beginning of Worlds Unseen for those exact reasons. It felt Dickens-like, and the introduction of magic was welcome and delicious. 🙂

    • Lit Lady, your comment made me think of Jill Williamson’s latest book The New Recruit. That one has an everyday character who joins an imaginative organization. The fantasy isn’t so much other worldly as it is supernatural. But the point is, Jill pulls readers into pretend through the gateway of the normal, so that when the supernatural pops into the story, it’s only a small step to accept it.

      By the way, that’s a book I highly recommend.


  4. […] in the Bright Empires series by Stephen Lawhead, the CSFF Blog Tour’s October feature. In “The Success Of Fantasy By The Masters” I take a look at why Narnia and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth became popular, even with […]

  5. Kessie says:

    I think that’s one reason I enjoy modern/urban fantasy so much. It meets me where I am and takes me to fantastic places that might be right around the corner.
    Think about fairytales. When they were first told, they were modern fantasy. “Don’t go out in the woods or the witch will get you!” It was where people lived. Even “once upon a time” stories were set in a world similar to those of the people telling the story.
    Modern/urban fantasy takes fairytales and updates them. In our world, would you be more afraid to walk through the woods at night, or through the ghettos of your home town? What if those scary places are where the witches, werewolves and cursed princes now lurk?

    • Great point, Kessie. I think you’re right–books in an urban setting are more immediately relatable to people in today’s society because that’s what we know so well.

      Also a true observation about fairytales. Once they were contemporary.


    • Bainespal says:

      I’ve been learning to appreciate modern/urban fantasy more, although I have yet to read the Dresden Files. 😉  You may be right that modern/urban fantasy are the modern equivalent of fairy tales.

      However, I don’t think modern/urbany fantasy can replace high/epic fantasy.  There were fairy tales that may have been “contemporary” in the Middle Ages, but there was also always mythology.  Maybe the distinctions between high fantasy and modern fantasy have always existed, in the difference between folk fairy tales and epic mythological sagas.  We need both.

      • Kessie says:

        Sure, of course we need both. But I’ve noticed that a lot of juvie and YA fantasy is modern/urban, perhaps because that’s more accessible for kids. Harry Potter, Fablehaven, Lightning Thief, Ashtown Burials, and so on. Even Hunger Games had a modernish setting. There’s a lot more epic fantasy aimed at adults.
        Going back to Rebecca’s main point, linking the familiar and the supernatural is an important part of fantasy. I’ve grown up reading contemporary spec fic, not even knowing what it was (Heinlein’s and Bradbury’s juvie fiction is fantastic stuff). I happen to like contemporary settings because I’m a Tolkien snob. All epic fantasy copies from him at some point, and I despise reading ripoffs.

What do you think?