Fantasy and High Fantasy

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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29 Responses

  1. DensityDuck says:

    Props for using the Final Fantasy Tactics art. (I really want to buy it for the iPhone but $15 is out of my justifiable-purchase range. Maybe that’s what the holiday season is for…)Report

  2. Ethan Gach says:

    Your image brings to mind something I’ve always wonderd: why, with such a rich mythological heritage of their own, do developers of Japanese fantasy games draw so heavily from Eurpean mythology?Report

    • Kimmi in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      you’ve never heard of kwelin, I take it?

      There are TONS of video games that draw from Japanese and Chinese history, legends of the three kingdoms, suikoden among others.Report

    • Ryan Bonneville in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      I think the gap here is that a large number of games designed for Japanese audiences never see North American localizations.

      That said, there are quite a few. Kimmi points out a couple, and I’d add Breath of Fire as a series that doesn’t just use Asian history but also Asian mythological elements (the animal-people hybrids, the dragons, etc).Report

      • It may also be about making money. Borrow familiar imagery to connect with consumers/audience.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          … never played a japanese puzzle game, I take it?

          Seriously, it’s been my general impression that Japanese media, as American media, doesn’t make much for overseas audiences. Heroes is about the only American show that seemed like it paid any attention to overseas audiences (and without understanding Japanese, you were Lost!)Report

        • Ethan Gach in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          But the JRPG does so poorly outside of Japan. 

          And if you look at the genre’s two most popular franchises in Japan, Final Fantasy, and Dragon Quest, both certainly mix elements, but still seem to come down strongly on the Anglo-Saxon side of the equation.

          Even Link started with a cross on his shield.

          It could be the international appeal, Japan doesn’t have the biggest domestic market.  Maybe something to do with WWII as well?Report

    • Zach in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      why, with such a rich mythological heritage of their own, do developers of Japanese fantasy games draw so heavily from Eurpean mythology?

      A) Japanese developers, rightly or wrongly, might believe that a Euro-esque game would be more marketable.

      B) Because there is appeal in exploring in another culture and mythology. I imagine there are Japanese writers and artists that are as bored with the stereotypical tropes of their cultural fantasies as American, British, and Canadian writers are with theirs.

      And Kimmi is right, of course. There are many games that embrace traditional Japanese mythology.Report

    • Kyle Cupp in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      I have some thoughts about this question related to some larger points about fantasy in video games.  Methinks Erik can expect a guest post submission from me in the near future.Report

  3. joey jo jo shabadoo jr. says:

    damn dope smoking libertarians with their “high” fantasy.  why can’t you be real ‘muricans and just get drunk?Report

  4. BlaiseP says:

    For some years, I studied C.S. Lewis at the Wade Collection in Wheaton College and the J.R.R Tolkien papers at Marquette University. If High Fantasy is not Christian, the Christians have taken their own fantasy authors to their bosoms.

    My first course at Wheaton was Modern Mythology 401, taught by Clyde Kilby of blessed memory, a man who knew Lewis and Tolkien. At the end of the course, I gave him a framed drawing of mine, of Reepicheep the Mouse from the Chronicles of Narnia, holding his little sword aloft. When I gave it to him, on behalf of the class, I quoted Reepicheep “Whether we live or whether we die, let us go on to the end of the world”.

    It would be the last course he ever taught. I am told the drawing was on the wall of the room where he died. On the strength of my association with the Wade Collection, I was introduced to Madeline L’Engle. We had a conversation about the Christian-ness of her own fantasy writing. I came away with the belief every fantasy author describes his own private Eden, from which he has been expelled.

    As for D.G. Myers, he’s not merely wrong, he’s ignorant. The Talmud and Midrash are chock full of fairy tales. From Sinbad of the Talmud, one of the Aunt Nancy Stories:

    “It is a shame,” he said, hotly, “that the impudent ragamuffins of the town should be allowed to cast words of disrespect in the public streets at my sainted master, Rabba bar Chana, the man of profound learning and the famous traveller–“

    “Be gentle, good Ali,” interrupted Rabba. “Remember they are little more than babes and have not full understanding. And how can they be respectful when their parents, who should have wisdom and faith, accept not our stories of the many adventures we have had? Yesterday, I told them of the day when our ship had been surrounded by five thousand whales, each a mile long, and they jeered and cried ‘Impossible!'”

    “Impossible!” echoed Ali, in a rage. “Was I not there with thee, my master? Did I not count every single whale myself? Who dares to doubt my word? Have I not, for years, been thy faithful guide on thy marvelous journeys? Bah! What know these town fools, whose lives are no wider than the narrow streets in which they dwell, of the wonders of the vast world beyond the seas? Fools, ignorant fools, every one of them, my good master. Why stay you here with them and brook their insults and their sneers? Let us journey forth again this very day. A good ship waits in the harbor.”

    Erik hopes fantasy will expand into the fantastical traditions of other cultures. I observe, after many years of studying CSL and JRRT, fantasy has always expanded into other cultures. Iif fantasy has iterated over CSL and JRRT, its authors and readers are content. Literature has moved along without them: authors including – let’s see, looking along my little shelf here in the hotel — Borges, Pynchon, Murakami and John Crowley, manage very nicely. Miyazaki creates marvelous animated movies from the ancient Japanese legends and fairy tales and Disney sells them like hotcakes.

    If ever there was a dog returned to his vomit and a fool returned to his folly, it’s the aficionados of the entire Swords ‘n Sorcery genre. Pitiful, untutored wretches: the entire corpus of world mythology lies before them, Borges tried to inform them – they won’t pay any attention. It’s more of the same deus ex machina crap, year after year. Nay, deus ex machina gives them too much credit, let us call it what it is deus ex epistola, the subtle fawning plagiarism of Old Tired Tropes. Gimme that Old Time Religion: it was good enough for Tolkien and it’s good enough for me. It’s high time someone called bullshit on Swords ‘n Sorcery. Erik’s point is well-taken: fantasy has few Christian themes and many pagan ones. The reason why we’re reliant on the old patterns is pretty obvious: it’s a safe sell.   But so are all those Harlequin Romances.   High Fantasy, indeed.Report