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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Shining Armor

Lord Gwydion's blog has a post about a lack of old-fashioned heroes in fantasy gaming. It's particularly timely for me, since some time ago, Turner Classic Movies had a bunch of Arthurian movies I DVRed and just finished watching, plus I noticed that SyFy is airing Merlin again. I watched a lot of Arthurian stuff when I was a kid, so I guess this is one of my obsessions. I, too, miss old-fashioned knights, or heroes who are at least symbolically knightly in their conduct.

Because of something N. Wright said in his blog, Lord Gwydion focused on high fantasy as "save the world plots", which all three of us agree are annoying. But unlike many fantasy enthusiasts, I see "high fantasy" and "epic fantasy" as distinct genres, although they may overlap in some cases. The latter is the typical Tolkien/Lewis "save the world plot", the former is an illustration of heroic and virtuous ideals through story. In high fantasy, heroes have good intentions and virtues, which overcome any imperfections they may have. Saving the world takes a back seat to doing good deeds.

I think fantasy has drifted away from this, except where it overlaps with mega-epic fantasy, partly because the grail quest has been reinterpreted as a save the world story, when really it's a moral lesson. Ironically, we might have to blame Excalibur for this; it's the best Arthurian film I've ever seen, but it in a sense corrupted high fantasy by trivializing it to being nothing but epic quests.


  1. Very good points. There is a big difference between 'save the world' plots and high fantasy in general. Also, most Arthurian tales are adventures more in line with those of Fafhrd and the Mouser or Conan than with those of the Fellowship of the Ring.

  2. Exactly. The difference between Arthurian tales and Lankhmarian or Hyborean tales isn't based on the activities of the heroes, but on their purity, and the redeemability of their world.

  3. From what I remember, John Carter of Mars is a high fantasy (chivalrous) hero in a low fantasy (morally indifferent) world.