Uncharted Territory: Things I Rarely See in Fantasy

Because I write and think about fantasy fiction quite a bit (as the title of this blog might suggest), I occasionally notice interesting spots of “uncharted territory” in the stories I read and watch – i.e. concepts, ideas or character types I rarely come across. I don’t mean obvious things that no one would expect in the genre anyway, but small, specific things that I try to find examples of and am intrigued when I come up with close to nothing. So I thought these might provide good inspiration for a series of posts.

Of course, it may turn out that there are good books, TV shows and films out there that have explored these things… in which case I’ll hopefully get some gaps in my knowledge filled by well-read commenters.

But if these do end up being paths rarely travelled, they might form a nice list of ‘new ground’ writers could be inspired by, or at least provoke some interesting discussions.

There won’t be any sort of schedule for these, I’ll just post one when I have something worth adding to the collection, and put the links here on this main page, the idea being to build up a list over time.

Uncharted Territory Posts:

Hopefully this list will get a bit longer in the coming months 🙂

And if anyone has a suggestion for some potential uncharted territory I should investigate, or has their own post on a little-explored theme, feel free to comment below!

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28 thoughts on “Uncharted Territory: Things I Rarely See in Fantasy

  1. This is a great idea for an article series 🙂 and I just thought I’d add some links to posts I’ve done about things I noticed were lacking in fiction (and wanted more of). I’m not sure if they’re entirely along the lines of what you were thinking, but maybe they can help spark more ideas and awareness for new ground to cover in fantasy.

    https://kayleekirpes.wordpress.com/2017/08/01/science-and-magic/
    https://kayleekirpes.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/pets-in-fiction/
    https://kayleekirpes.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/fantastical-settings/

    I’ve also been wondering if other people have noticed the lack of these things and wanted more of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks!! And thanks for sharing your posts, I read them and they really got me thinking! I believe I’ve encountered quite a few pets in fantasy – several cats and dogs and birds come to mind (my favourites being Mogget from The Old Kingdom, Manchee from Chaos Walking, and Hedwig from Harry Potter) and the Daemons in His Dark Materials are pretty pet-like too. But I could certainly handle seeing more of them because I always love pets in books!

      And I think you’re right about the science and the magic. There are series that combine them (The Lightbringer series has a genius that constantly invents devices that use magic) but it’s not common, and when science and magic do appear, they are often opposing forces as you said (e.g. in The Old Kingdom trilogy, magic makes technology stop working). It would be cool to see them working together more often!

      As for fantasy settings, yes I do think we could get more creative with them! I think there are more non-European inspired settings appearing (I just sadly haven’t read that many books with them yet) but I do often feel I’d like to see more geographically fantastical landscapes explored too. As you said, why not choose somewhere like a forest of giant mushrooms? 🙂 There are a few books I’ve read that have more unusual settings, but not as many as you’d think in a genre where world-building is so important. Anyway, thank you for sharing, I’ll be keeping my eyes out for these things now!

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  2. I rarely see children and their parents doing things together in fantasy. So often the parents are dead, missing, out of town, unhelpful or antagonistic, or even not mentioned at all. There are many, many books I haven’t read, but if you’ve also found this rare, I would enjoy a post about it. Also, I’d love to learn about examples showing how it can be done well.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Seconded! Relatedly, I’d love to see something about positive family relationships in fantasy. Why is everyone always trying to kill each other? Why do family members constantly turn against each other? It would be nice to see something Incredibles-style where the whole family works together for once!

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      • Good point, I have also found this one to be rare! I suppose the abundance of orphans and people with awful or neglectful parents happens because it creates conflict and tension and makes characters struggle alone to succeed. But it would be interesting to see more present parents and positive family relationships. I’ll ruminate on this one and see if I can come up with examples of it being done well (The Incredibles is a good one!), and write a post on it. Thanks for the suggestion!!

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  3. I think we’re finding some progress in this area as of late, but I’d love to read non-Euro-centric fantasy settings. Dragons and quests are cool, but what about some sweet fantasy set in the Himalayan mountains? Or featuring 1100’s Peru? Let’s expand the diversity of origin!

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  4. This is something I’ve never thought of before! In my own work I can think of one magical mentor and my theory there is because that setting is so removed from regular fantasy in my head. I’m sitting here now trying to think of some media where a woman was a magical mentor without being a sex object or evil and I cannot for the life of me think of one except for in Xena, the woman from China(whose name I forget) who saves her life and pushes her to begin thinking of other people.

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    • Ah yes, I used to love Xena but I haven’t seen it in many years so I don’t remember very much about it. I looked it up and I think the woman you’re referring to is called ‘Lao Ma’ – and from what I read she certainly looks like a good example of a female mentor character.

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      • Lao Ma! Yes! She’s a fascinating character who never got enough screen time. She’s a lot more nuanced but plays an Obi Wan role in a far more elegant way. It’s a shame she’s the only one that I can think of that isn’t a love interest or something like that.

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  5. Female mentors in magic are out there in books, not all of them are main characters I will grant you that – but they are there!
    The Worst Witch series of books by Jill Murphy is about a boarding school of all girl witches and all female teachers.
    Discworld series by Terry Pratchett has Granny Weatherwax who mentored Eskarina in Equal Rites (the series third book) and is in some other stories in the series.
    Roald Dahl’s “The Witches” were all female who relied upon the leadership and training of the Grand High Witch.
    There are plenty, there is another story I remember, but I don’t remember the title of the book too, it was about a witch training a little girl some witchcraft in order to protect a rare species of black cat which were entirely magical by nature from going extinct.
    As for parents not being present in fantasy novels, I know of a couple of them. One of them being Matilda another one of Roald Dahl’s works, albeit they were abusive and eventually gave her up into adoption; they were present throughout the book.
    Then you have Harry Potter’s other characters, they had their parents even if Harry didn’t.
    I think the reason behind why a lot of main characters do not have their parents present (usually dead) is because emotional trauma can unlock hidden skills and talents that they might never had discovered if it weren’t for the traumatic experiences. I know this was portrayed in Matilda, though her parents were not dead, the abuse she got at home and from her Headmistress opened up a doorway of magical power that helped her overcome her problems through telekinesis.
    Same thing again for Princess Irene from George MacDonald’s novel “The Princess and the Goblin”. Princess Irene’s mother is absent and her father the King is absent most of the time but occasionally comes to visit his little princess – during his absence the Princess grows bored and wanders the palace and discovers a stairwell that leads up to a garrett where an old lady spins magical threads to assist Irene against the goblins, this lady is said to be her great grandmother but sometimes it seems as though she is her mother. This old lady too, seems to mentor the little girl in some forms of magic.
    I hoped this helped you?

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    • Thanks, I did briefly think of Dahl’s The Witches (I used to love the movie of it as a kid!), though I guess I discounted them because they were antagonists. From the perspective of the other witches though the Grand High Witch is a magical mentor-like figure, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been so hasty in dismissing them! A few people have mentioned Discworld – I haven’t read Equal Rites yet so didn’t know Granny Weatherwax played more of a mentor role in that. I also haven’t read the Princess and the Goblin or The Worst Witch series, but it sounds like they have good positive female magical mentors too.

      That’s an interesting point about the unlocking of powers being another reason for absent or abusive parents, now you mention it I can think of quite a few fantasies where that happens. Matilda’s parents are a good example of antagonistic parents who help prompt the character to develop magic and solve her problems (together with the evil headmistress). It also occurs to me that Matilda’s nice teacher Miss Honey is a kind of positive female mentor figure… though not exactly magical I guess.

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  6. I love your thoughts, though I wouldn’t call any territory uncharted. As you previously mentioned, there are aspects of fantasy that are rarely touched upon. On that note, there is nothing really original, although some concepts have been explored less than others. I try to be original with some of my fantasy stories, as well as generic with some of my other fantasy stories – hey, it all depends on my mood! – but I don’t think I can ever be totally original. That said, I love this post. It’s well thought out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I guess no territory is ever wholly uncharted when it comes to fantasy, just less charted (though uncharted sounds better in a title 🙂 ). I think it’s the rarity of or unusual approach to a concept that makes it feel original, even if it has in fact been explored before. Glad you enjoyed the post!

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