Humor in Fantasy

2012-Feb-22 -> from the 29-days-of-fantasy department Tags:

So, enough with the seriousness of fantasy. Jonathan Gould takes us on a trip through the lighter side of fantasy with his guest post today.

Jonathan Gould is a Melbourne-based writer and doodler. He calls his stories "dag-lit" because they're the sort of stories that don't easily fit into the standard genres. Some might think of them as comic fantasies, or modern fairytales for the young and the young-at-heart.

Over the years, his writing has been compared to Douglas Adams, Monty Python, A.A. Milne, Lewis Carroll, the Goons, Dr Seuss and even Enid Blyton (in a good way).

He has 2 published ebook novellas, Doodling (which was a semi-finalist in the 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards, humor category) and Flidderbugs. His first full-length novel, a comic epic fantasy (Tolkien meets Dr Seuss) titled Magnus Opum will be released in April.

Let's have a look, shall we?

Fantasy is usually a serious business. It often features big stories about epic battles between the forces of good and evil. Pretty heavy stuff.

But lately I've been reading one of the original and best fantasy stories, The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, to my kids and what has really struck me is the humor in the story. Right from the beginning, when the dwarves trash Bilbo's hobbit hole, to episodes like the unbelievably stupid trolls, the underground riddles with Gollum, the taunting of the giant spiders, and the tricks Bilbo plays on Smaug the dragon, there are numerous moments which, if not outright laugh out loud, are still genuinely funny. It may be a serious story with serious themes but it's full of lighter moments.

This got me thinking about the presence of humor within the fantasy genre. When you think about it, it really is an area that is ripe for it. After all, where else but fantasy can you create your own rules? You can make absolutely anything you want happen. So why shouldn't those things be funny things?

You can have a lot of fun coming up with funny characters within the realms of fantasy. How about a short-sighted elf who is always mistaking his enemies for his friends on the battlefield. Or a clumsy dwarf who always seems to be dropping those precious jewels and stones. Or a goblin who has refined senses and has no truck with the sordid kind of business goblins usually get up too. There's absolutely no limit to the quirks and oddball characteristics you can assign to your characters with a bit of imagination.

The other thing to me that makes fantasy amazingly powerful as an avenue for humor is the fact that you are creating a whole new world. You can then use that world to send up the crazy and absurd things we all get up to in this world. Basic human vices, like greed and stupidity and vanity can be exaggerated to ridiculous extremes. Things that you couldn't get away with in a story set in real life, because they are just so crazy and unrealistic, become completely reasonable within a fantasy story.

And what makes fantasy really powerful in this regard is as a tool for satire. Real events, even real people, can be given a fantastical twist. There's a long and proud history of using fantasy in this way. Gulliver's Travels and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland may seem like strange and delightful stories but they are also powerful satires of the specific politics (and politicians) of the day. As the years have passed, we may have forgotten about the exact targets of the satire but the messages live on.

Some examples of humorous fantasy (a very non-exhaustive list)

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift -- the old style prose makes it a bit dry and hard to read, but it's interesting to know that the Lilliput section (the only one most people remember these days), including the bit where Gulliver saves the burning palace by peeing on it, is actually a finely-tuned satire of the politics of Britain at the time.

The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams -- not sure if this is science fiction or fantasy (or whether it even matters). Adams weaves ideas about philosophy and other big questions into the otherwise random and absurd wanderings of his characters.

The Discworld Novels by Terry Pratchett -- there must be over 30 of these by now. Amazingly broad-ranged satire and parody across this incredible collection. If you can think of anything that has ever happened or been written or done, there is a satirical equivalent somewhere on the Discworld.

Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones -- story about an alternative world where the people are forced against their will to act out the "tropes" of epic fantasy for the benefit of tourists from our world. Possibly a bit long and rambling but lovingly satirises many of the clichés of the genre.

Thank you, Jonathan! If you're interested in checking out more of Jonathan's work, you can find his blog at daglit.blogspot.com, like him on facebook at facebook.com/jonathangouldwriter, or follow him on twitter at @jonno_go.

Coming up tomorrow, we have a look at Native Americans in Fantasy.


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