This week: Primary World vs. Secondary WorldEdited by: Jeff
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"Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality.
It's a way of understanding it."
-- Lloyd Alexander
About The Editor: Greetings! My name is Jeff and I'm a guest editors for this issue of the Official Fantasy Newsletter! I've been a member of Writing.com since 2003, and have edited more than 350 newsletters across the site during that time. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me via email or the handy feedback field at the bottom of this newsletter!
PRIMARY VS. SECONDARY WORLD
While there's some debate about the origin of the term, J.R.R. Tolkien and his extensive work in the realm of Middle-Earth spurred the widespread use of the term "secondary world" which, even today, is often used by fantasy writers to indicate that their work takes place in an entirely original setting or fictionalized universe. By contrast, "primary world" fantasy is that which is set in current reality, but includes supernatural or fantastical elements.
Popular primary world fantasy works include Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling), The Dresden Files (Jim Butcher), Percy Jackson & The Olympians (Rick Riordan), The Southern Vampire Mysteries (Charlaine Harris), American Gods (Neil Gaiman), etc.
By contrast, popular secondary world fantasy words include The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien), A Song of Ice and Fire (George R.R. Martin), The Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan), and any of the Dungeons & Dragons campaign settings that have spawned a whole series of books: Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Eberron, etc.
One of the benefits of primary world (reality-based) fantasy is that the world has already been created, for the most part. You don't have to spend a ton of time designing new continents, countries, kingdoms, etc. because you already have the actual Earth as a template and can just figure out how your fantastical elements fit into the real world. On the other hand, a lot of fantasy readers specifically read in the genre because they love the worldbuilding involved in completely establishing a new world to explore, so it can oftentimes be worth the initial effort and extra work of creating all of those additional worldbuilding elements for your readers to uncover. The trick, of course, is figuring out how to present that information in a natural way while still telling a compelling story with interesting characters because it's the investment in the story and the characters that will keep your readers going as you lay out all of the elements of your fantasy world.
Personally, I enjoy secondary world fantasy a lot. While I'm less inclined to want to read huge doorstop books just to appreciate the worldbuilding, there's nothing quite like an author who can create an entire world from the ground up. This probably goes way back to my early childhood playing Dungeons & Dragons and looking for long, engrossing books in order to pass the time in different worlds than my own, and it's really an accomplishment when an author can create a secondary world setting so vivid and so engrossing that it becomes mainstream. On the other hand, I've also developed a newfound appreciation in recent years for the authors who can write primary world fantasy and navigate all the questions and problems that come with trying to explain (or hide) supernatural phenomena in an otherwise normal, mundane world. That requires a bit of worldbuilding too, and a nuanced understanding of how setting plays a role in crafting a fantasy story.
Ultimately, whether you're writing secondary or primary world fantasy, there are plenty of readers out there who will enjoy disappearing into the fantasy world you've created. Each comes with its own challenges and obstacles, but both types of fantasy have huge audiences who appreciate the time and effort that an author puts into creating a unique world for them to explore.
Until next time,
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EXCERPT: Katerina knew something about the power of stories. She knew that they could change the way that you feel about things. She knew that they could give you ideas and teach you to see through another's eyes. And she knew how sometimes stories lied in order to tell the truth and how sometimes, they just lied.
EXCERPT: Jerry stopped to gas up after another double shift at the factory. He was smiling to himself as he filled the tank, thinking of the woman waiting at home for him. He spent his last dollars on a billion-plus lottery, set for tomorrow night along with a rose from a countertop vase. Oh, the things he could do for her and their soon-to-be newest member of the family, aah, if only, he wished. They would be so happy. Life would be beyond awesome he thought as he pulled into the parking lot of their tiny apartment.
EXCERPT: Skies had greyed this wintry day but the glistening waves had calmed in the sheltered cove. The unicorns lined up nervously along the sandy shore; the merfolk sat among black rocks. In the deep water the narwhals gathered.
They were on the verge of war. The merfolk wanted to fish in peace and sun on the beach unobserved, or so they said. The unicorns wanted to safely frolic with the surf; some obviously wanted more. Everyone seemed to want more. No one was telling the whole truth.
The narwhals were being forced to take sides.
EXCERPT: In the days of empty skies when the endless winds blew the people about like seeds, the Winter Tribe trudged south following the snows, dragging their yurts behind on sledges, chasing the endless forty-one-hundred-day winter cycle and the wisps which danced silently in the sky.
It was said that the wisps were the spirits of tribal members who had passed on and watched over the tribe. It was also said that the wisps were drawn by the peoples’ love for each other. For of all the things the spirits missed in the world of the living, they missed most the warmth of love from a beating heart.
EXCERPT: Time immemorial. What humans thought of legends and fantasies of bygone eras still thrived. Magic ruled this wonder place, disguising a remote earthly realm where a shifting shoreline became the border between known and unknown worlds.
It was not always so. The unicorn appeared in early Mesopotamian artworks, and it also was referred to in the ancient myths of India and China. Those who drank from its horn were thought to be protected from stomach trouble, epilepsy, and poison. This and other mythical creatures favored by what mankind mistakenly thought of as gods and semi-gods, played supernaturally with men’s minds and superstitions.
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