My post today was triggered by something I read over at Writtenwyrd’s blog. Particularly, she posted Lawrence Watt-Evan's “Laws of Fantasy.” Thanks, Writtenwyrd.
Although I agree in principle with most of these rules, I do have a pedantic bone to pick here and there. Here’s my response to the rules:
1. Watt-Evans' First Law of Fantasy: Stories are about people.
-- I’m afraid this isn’t always true. Nor should it be. Personally, I generally prefer stories about people. But fantasy can also be a literature of ideas, in which the people are secondary. I think this happens more in SF than fantasy, but I can see it in fantasy. And, what of those writers who truly try to imagine an “alien” people. Certainly, most races in Fantasy are thinly veiled humans with pointed ears etc., but does that have to be? Mr. Watt-Evans may, of course, be defining people broadly, and that would dispense with most of my objection.
2. Watt-Evans' Second Law of Fantasy: People are never wholly good or wholly evil, and therefore characters should never be wholly good or wholly evil.
-- Here we have a problem with logic. Mr. Watt-Evans is absolutely correct in saying that real life people aren’t wholly good or wholly evil. The second part of his law doesn’t necessarily follow, however. The problem is that, by his own statement, these laws deal with “fantasy.” That means we’re already outside the realm of “real life.” Magic doesn’t work in the real world. So, if we are not allowing “unreal” characters then how can we allow unreal magic? One of the great powers of fantasy, of fiction in general, is that it allows us to contemplate and experience that which isn’t real. There is not only room in fantasy for unreal characters such as those who are wholly evil or wholly good, but one could argue that there is a demand at times for exactly that kind of character.
3. Watt-Evans' Third Law of Fantasy: The basic human motivations are universal.
-- I agree completely with this one. It does not necessarily follow, however, that all human characters in fantasy should have only real life human motivations. See my commentary under #2.
4. Watt-Evans' Fourth Law of Fantasy: Everything other than the basic human motivations will vary, depending on the cultural setting.
-- I agree. Culture is very powerful and most fantasy writers (including myself) struggle in developing realistic seeming cultures and properly predicting what the humans in those cultures will do.
5. Watt-Evans' Fifth Law of Fantasy: Magic, like everything else, has rules.
-- Again, I generally agree. Personally, I much prefer stories in which magic has clearly defined rules (although they don’t have to agree with the normal physical laws of our universe), and has a cost attached to using it. I’ve actually seen a literary writer deliberately break this rule for effect, however, and though I didn’t like it, I could accept it as an experiment. This is pretty much an exception, though, and doesn’t disprove for me the validity of this fifth law.
6. Watt-Evans' Sixth Law of Fantasy: If a story can be written without a fantasy element, then don't bother with the fantasy element.
-- I agree that fantasy elements should not just be thrown in. They should be integral to the story. However, doesn’t most “magical realism” violate the sixth principle? Many of the magical realism stories I’ve read could have been told without the fantasy elements. But they would have lost something, something I couldn’t necessarily define.