Once at primary school I tried to convince my teacher that we needed a new word – or at least that we needed one that might exist already, but that we’d somehow forgotten. This is going to be a piece partly about words, and “fantasy” was one that I was never totally happy with. It lacked, as I saw it, the generic precision of “science-fiction,” and I wanted a more specific description for that strand of fantasy storytelling and world-building that (I did not really know at the time, but would have pretended to if asked) has flowed from Tolkien’s consolidation of elves and dragons, dwarves and orcs. I wanted to be able to pin, with a single word, that mixture of magic and folklore, that particular set of imaginative boundaries with which I was so often engaged and so thoroughly obsessed. The best I could come up with was “fantamystical”, which, if you’ve been paying attention for the last twenty years, did not catch on.
Luckily it’s been a very kind twenty years for this area of fiction, to the point where we hardly need the word fantamystical at all (although I am willing to give it one last push if you guys are). A combination of, among other things, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, and screen retellings of The Lord Of The Rings and A Song Of Ice And Fire have made my adolescent anxieties about the ambiguous categorizations of fiction redundant, leaving me with merely dozens of other anxieties, and us with Tolkien-fenced fantasy imprinted on our culture, and our games (this is being written in the gap between the arrival of Pillars Of Eternity and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, with Dragon Age: Inquisition still questing, exploring and adventuring in the background).
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