Thumbnail Image

Believable Worlds: The Rules, Role and Function of Magic in Fantasy Novels

Contemporary fantasy fiction is a genre that has captured the minds of readers and authors for many decades. It places stories about fantastical events and peoples in the realms of an imaginary world that follows its own set of structural rules. Authors delve into different facets of writing to deliver an engaging and immersive story for the readers, with fantasy tropes and narrative working together to build a compelling story. The worlds that authors write about include new twists on fantasy elements and invariably include some rendition of magic within a hyper exaggerated reflection of the real world, or a completely imagined world altogether This thesis interrogates the role of magic in fantasy fiction. It argues that magic is fundamental to both the world-building of fantasy settings and the arc of fantasy narratives. At its best magic is fully integrated and explained, providing readers with a convincing immersive experience, although at times authors use magic more cavalierly as a convenient trope. By focusing on the fiction of the founding father of contemporary fantasy – J. R.R. Tolkien – and analysing the way in which more recent writers (in particular Brandon Sanderson, Terry Pratchett, and the creators of the Warhammer World) build on and at times challenge Tolkien’s legacy I aim to highlight the series of challenges confronting authors of fantasy fiction. They need to firstly have a full understanding of how magic works in their own created worlds. Magic intersects with every aspect of fantasy fiction — narrative, setting, character — and authors need to be able to communicate sufficient understanding of how these magical systems work without submerging their readers with dense descriptions and information overload. At its best, fantasy provides readers with a sense that the fictional worlds they enter are fully realised and, through suspension of disbelief, could possibly exist. Given that fantasy fiction is full of ever-recycling tropes (such as magical rings, magical beings, and seemingly impossible feats of courage and power), writers also have to navigate the tricky path of tapping into the tropes which readers expect and enjoy while attempting to create something new. Magic is such a fundamental building block of fantasy worlds that at times authors also draw parallels between this source of power and the hierarchies, constructs, and ideologies that dominate our own world. My argument throughout is that the best fantasy fiction achieves a deft balance between both action and explanation and entertainment and social critique. I am a creative writer as well as a literary scholar and throughout my investigation is informed by my desire to critically examine magic in contemporary fantasy in order to hone my skills as a writer. This thesis has a creative practice element and my analysis is interspersed with extracts from my own fantasy fiction which form a dialogue with the critical elements.
Type of thesis
Guethert, K. S. W. (2016). Believable Worlds: The Rules, Role and Function of Magic in Fantasy Novels (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/10242
University of Waikato
All items in Research Commons are provided for private study and research purposes and are protected by copyright with all rights reserved unless otherwise indicated.