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The Many Faces of Fantasy
Steve Lazarowitz

When most people think fantasy, they probably recall such epics as the Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Thomas Convenant the Unbeliever, The Wheel of Time or any of a number of fantasy books that line the shelves of bookstores everywhere. Such fantasy (along with horror) has become the stock and trade of the speculative fiction market. While science fiction, at least in its printed form, seems to be making less and less inroads with the public, fantasy seems to be gathering momentum.

It was not always this way. In the fifties and sixties, science fiction was huge, while both fantasy and horror had been relegated to a small section of the bottom shelf. What happened to change that state of affairs?

If I had to venture a guess, I would say it was the emergence of role-playing games. In the mid seventies, Dungeons and Dragons was born. What was once a small fantasy supplement in the back of the Chainmail rulebook, became the game-playing craze of the eighties.

In fact, D&D and other RPGs became so popular that the store The Compleat Strategist, which was once a bastion of war games and board games, was suddenly inundated by RPGs. Dungeons and Dragons was the first (and to this day remains the most popular), but it was soon joined by Chivalry and Sorcery, The Arduin Grimoire, Gamma World, Traveler and later Boot Hill, Marvel Superheros, Top Secret, GURPS (General Use Role Playing), Rolemaster, Runequest, Elfquest and more. My war-gaming friends, who once met weekly to deploy armies of miniatures against each in the room at the back of the Strategist, were ousted to make room for the hoards of role-players that seemed to be everywhere.

As adults, most of us don't have time for RPGs, though believe it or not, I still get together with my friends once in a while. Others I know have outgrown role-playing, but a good percentage of them have moved onto reading fantasy. Dungeons and Dragons has given an entire generation the roots it needs to appreciate wizards and monsters, gods and demons. It's why Robert Jordan can write eight, eight-hundred page books and still not be done with the series. There is a definite market for fantasy.

However, I am here to tell you that epic fantasy, heroic fantasy and high fantasy comprise only a small subset of the fantasy genre. For one thing, anything with magic in it is a fantasy. This includes Sleeping Beauty, Tales from the Arabian Nights, I Dream of Jeanie and Bewitched.

I Dream of Jeanie can be construed as nothing else. It's a comedy too, but the series is centered around a Djin, a figure clearly out of the realms of the fantastic and one that is even found in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual.

You don't have to stop there, of course. Anything that has a talking animal in it, also falls into the genre. Mr. Ed was fantasy! So is Bugs Bunny. In fact, most cartoons are fantasy, if you stop to think about them.

Today, many soap operas contain story lines that touch the paranormal. They wouldn't be caught dead thinking of themselves as fantasy and yet they are. Once you place a ghost into a story, or a magical object, it becomes fantasy.

In addition to the standard definitions, try searching for fantasy on the Internet. You'll find that in addition to the sites you expected to get, you'll come up with a number of sites featuring naked women and a number of others that are sports sites, where people set up fantasy leagues using the stats of real players. I suppose, we all have different fantasies. Mine tend to involved walking through an underground labyrinth, holding a broadsword in one hand and a lantern in the other, searching for magical treasure.

But most of you had already guessed that.


Steve Lazarowitz and his idea machine reside in Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared online in numerous e-zines including The Wandering Troll, Jackhammer, Planet Relish, AnotherRealm and Twilight Times. His anthology "A Creative Edge: Tales of Speculation", won the year 2000 Dream Realm Award for best e-published speculative fiction anthology and was an Eppie finalist. "A Creative Edge" and Steve's other two books ("Dream Sequence" and "Alaric Swifthand") are all available from Crossroadspub.com. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his newest novel "Reflections of a Recovering Servant."


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