Woo… we’ve reached the point where event registration is open for GenCon. Let’s talk a little about how the process went with getting registered for events. There are two big things to note that we did, since there were two of us, when when we […]
Tag: Harry Potter
Urban Fantasy, what is it? And how do you create good urban fantasy?
I’ve mentioned Urban Fantasy before in some articles, but I wanted to delve deeper into it and provide some more examples beyond my normal one.
Urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy in which the narrative has an urban setting. Works of urban fantasy are set primarily in the real world and contain aspects of fantasy, such as the discovery of earthbound mythological creatures, coexistence or conflict between humans and paranormal beings, and other changes to city life. A contemporary setting is not strictly necessary for a work of urban fantasy: works of the genre may also take place in futuristic and historical settings, actual or imagined.
I figure I can just drop in some Wikapedia knowledge to get the conversation going since they are going to define it basically the same way that I’m going to describe it. I would say that urban fantasy basically does always show up in a contemporary setting at least from what I’ve seen. But as they say it isn’t required, but it is extremely normal for it to show up in that contemporary setting.
The best way that I would describe it is that it takes a realistic setting, generally earth and our world, and then puts a twist on it. Whether it’s Fae creatures as in Grimm and The Dresden Files, to the weird London Below in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, there are large chunks of the normal world still there for the story. These twists on the world can be highly hidden such as in Neverwhere or sometimes very obvious as in The Dresden Files, though magic and monsters are still generally kept under wraps there as well.
What generally makes strong urban fantasy is the balance of normalcy with the absurd. You see the normal world happening around the characters and you often see the characters pining for or rushing headlong into the more magical aspect of the world. While I wouldn’t quality Harry Potter as Urban Fantasy since most of it takes place at Hogwarts, it does have some elements of urban fantasy, and Harry is someone who rushes headlong into the magical world because anything seems better than living in the space beneath the stairs. That compares to Grimm where Detective Nick Burkhardt is not all that excited to find out what else is going on in the world. It makes his job much harder and makes his life much crazier in ways that he doesn’t want. I think this really helps drive the home the humanity of the main character as you see the struggle. There is some Urban Fantasy, and Lost Girl is an example, where the main character, Bo, loses touch with her humanity seemingly as the series goes along. Now, a lot of that is just writing, but it hurts the show when the focus on that has been lost and it was stronger at the start of the show. They made some poor decisions in the show by trying to be edgy, but unfortunately the writing dropped off too much and the acting talent wasn’t up to snuff to pull it off.
When I think about it, I don’t think that there are many particular things that make urban fantasy strong that doesn’t make most other books, movies, and TV shows strong. It has to focus in on an interesting character with flaws and have an interesting plot to go along with it. Within that a good focus on the tension between the two worlds is generally one of the driving forces. Shows like Grimm and Supernatural, which isn’t pure urban fantasy, but is closely aligned to Urban fantasy, and book series like The Dresden Files, all the main characters are the gate keepers keeping the world of monsters and other scary things back and allowing humanity to live in blissful ignorance of what is actually going on. That tension, whether or not the main character is the gate keeper, is probably the thing that is most unique to urban fantasy as it’s the most consistent theme to it. However, it is certainly not a required part of urban fantasy or something that is only limited to urban fantasy.
So I’ve mentioned some of the examples of Urban Fantasy that I’m familiar with. There are certainly a whole lot more out there, and I’m always interested in finding more to read. So I’m going to ask for some suggestions and then give some suggestions of my own. If you have some that you’ve enjoyed, let me know.
The Dresden Files
My #1 recommendation. The books are very well done and Jim Butcher does a really good job of developing an interesting world with interesting monsters. The series starts off a bit rough as it was some of if not Jim Butcher’s first major writing experience. But besides that, it’s about Harry Dresden, a wizard PI in Chicago who is basically one of the only forces holding back hordes of darkness from not just consuming the city, but at times the world.
I believe this show was met with mixed reviews, and I will say that there is some camp factor to the show and special effects. However, I liked the show. It is a bit monster of the week throughout a lot of it, but it does that well. The main character is interesting, and the creatures and building up of the world is quite interesting as well.
Probably my first introduction to Urban Fantasy, though I might have read the first Dresden Files book before. Neverwhere is an interesting and crazy crafted world of the London Below. A normal human runs across a girl named Door whose life is in danger. After helping her, Richard Mayhew starts having changes in life, and he starts to disappear from the world. He finds out that he’s now moved from his normal life in London to being part of London Below.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
One that people might not think about as it’s moved on from being part of the collective view, but like Supernatural, it’s a modern show with monsters. The reason that I would say this is more urban fantasy, at least as how I would qualify it, is that Buffy takes place in a single town of Sunnydale that just happens to be sitting on a hellmouth. It’s a classic show and one that does have a bad season or two in there, but is mostly very strong.
Just to do some more quick hits based off of what other places are calling Urban Fantasy that I’ve enjoyed:
All fun TV shows
Big Trouble in Little China
From Dusk Til Dawn
The Last Witch Hunter
All solid movie choices, though a lot of them B-movies.
Little Witch Academia
Blood Blockade Battlefront
Those are some anime options.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Last two I would say are urban fantasy adjacent books. But I recommend all of these books.
So you can see that I’ve watched a lot, but what are some other recommendations especially in books and anime?
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When I was writing about fantasy last, see the Not Your Normal Fantasy article, I touched on a concept that I really didn’t have time to flesh out. That what the difference between high and low magic fantasy settings are.
Let’s jump into the top right away because there’s not much need to explain what magic is, but in fantasy, there is generally magic. It isn’t in every case, but in a lot of cases there is some level of magic. That’s where the difference between high and low magic fantasy settings come in. High magic settings, magic is common place. In your most common examples with D&D, there is generally a fair amount of magic, probably more medium magic, but magic isn’t something that’s going to be shocking to most people. Low magic is on the opposite end of the spectrum, magic and magical items – in an RPG – are rare. People covet magic, fight over magic, and things like magical healing are not to be found.
And the article is done. Or I’ll talk about why you might want to pick one setting over another.
First off, consider the story you are trying to tell. How important is magic to it? If magic is important to the plot, and gaining a specific type of magic or a specific magical item, ask yourself then, is that because magic is rare or not. Is the item important because it’s a forgotten relic from long ago with a magic that was long lost, and now a group of wizards are going to be fighting over it? Or was it thought long lost, and now that it’s been found regular people are fighting for it because magic is so scarce. But then again, it’s possible that magic doesn’t matter in your story, is that because magic is common place so it doesn’t stand out as special or because it’s so rare that the two people off to the side of the story who can use it aren’t going to drive the story?
From there you can start fleshing out your world and determining how magic is used, is it swish and flick magic or dancing in a circle under the full moon magic? If you haven’t decided this can also help make your decision. Even if you have a lot of magic users, it can be a world that is harder to influence by magic if the magic only works during a full moon and requires extensive rituals. It could even be that everyone has some form of magic but if the ability to cast magic is too complicated most people won’t do that, creating a low magic world. Or for example, in Harry Potter, magic is simple, but the world as a whole is low magic, we’re just in the high magic part of it for the series, so even with swish and flick magic, it’s been hidden away. Hiding magic is always interesting and can make your world feel more low magic though it could eventually end up being higher magic magic as time goes on, such as if in the world of Harry Potter magic was to be revealed, it would make the whole world feel lower magic in some ways, but higher magic because it isn’t as isolated.
Finally, consider what level of magic you want s you consider where you want the focus of your story to lie. If you’re doing a story about a normal person who makes it big in a world where magic is common and overcomes that perceived deficit, than you’d want to go high magic. But if you don’t want your story to focus on magic, going with a lower magic setting would make sense. It’s possible in that last example that you could have a higher magic world, but magic is just common place, but you have to worry about the restrictions of magic.
In fact, that’s another reason why you want to consider your magic level of your world. In a world with a lot of magic, a lot of problems are going to be solved by magic. Especially in stories about the hero overcoming lack of magic or just overcoming without using magic, you have to set-up a world where magic wouldn’t make that much sense to be used. That means the Harry Potter swish and flick magic might be too simple for your world because it doesn’t expend energy or resources. But if you can only cast a spell from a faerie circle, during a full moon, while dancing around in a circle and doing a chant in the fresh dew, you could have a lot of magic, because that magic is just hard to do. At the same time, if you are using magic, you don’t want to fall the other direction of making it too weak that there would be no reason to do any sort of magic, because the technology of your story works more effectively.
Finally ask yourself where your magic comes from, that is going to make a huge difference. Is it that it’s divine magic and anyone can get access to it if they believe in the right deity whether that deity is good or evil? Or does the magic come from within and some people just inherently have it like in The Magicians or Harry Potter? If you just have to truly believe in a deity, people are going to have magic, and there’s going to be a lot of it because people will believe since they can see very tangible proof. But if it’s an inherent ability, than you can decide how few or many people get to have it based off of how much magic your story needs.
These are just a few things to consider. It is interesting to look at it for books, but as well for RPG’s where you can take something like Dungeons and Dragons and turn it into a low magic setting. What do you do when a player wants to play a Wizard? It can create interesting stories as your players might have a rare character or you might not let them start out as a magical character at all.
What are some examples you like of high or low magic worlds? Have you played in a game where it was very high magic or very low magic?
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Back with some Anime fun, this time it’s the crazy anime Assassination Classroom. This is a weird one that I just randomly found on my own, and I’m very glad that I did. For a title like it has, it’s actually way less violent and considerably more touching than you’d expect for an anime named Assassination Classroom.
The story is that the moon has been blown up and the crazy octopus like creature that caused it is threatening to blow up to the Earth in March. That means that he has time to teach a class of delinquent junior high kids because of a promise that he made. In turn, the government is using those kids to try and kill Korosensei, which is what they’ve named their teacher. The series follows their attempts to kill him, their attempts to improve their stock in the school, and mainly what they learn from his teaching and addressing issues that they have as students. The assassination aspect of the show quickly takes a back seat to the lessons learned.
Assassination Classroom, because of the lessons learned, is a very heartfelt anime. While it is more certainly goofy with an octopus teacher Korosensei and the assassination attempts, you quickly realize that the focus is on the students and the lessons that they learn through assassination attempts but also through the teaching and caring nature of Korosensei. There’s a ton of depth behind a lot of the episodes and the characters themselves. It builds well over time and it’s fun to see relationships grow with Kororsensei and the students and just the growth in the students themselves. The sub plots in the show are often very goofy, but there is something going on with The E Class (lowest lettered class for their grade) and the rest of the school that is often times compelling and unique with how it talks about education.
I honestly can’t say a ton more about it without giving away some of the story, but it goes in a way that you’d expect, especially through the first season. That isn’t a bad thing with this anime. There are parts of the basic story that are always going to go against standard tropes. It makes the story feel interesting, and the fact that an anime that sounds like it should be very violent and focused on that uses it as a backdrop is very nice. It’s also a fairly clean anime in terms of fan service and gore for that matter. It is also an anime that feels like it should have those things which helps subvert the expected tropes for it. The story has some violence to it and that’s always an aspect to it, however, it’s more funny, dramatic, and highly heartfelt. I think that’s some of the issue that other people who have watched it have had with it. They haven’t expected that from Assassination Classroom, and as I’ve said before, it goes against the expectations.
In the end, this an anime that I would highly recommend. As I watched more if it, the more I liked it. I thought there were a few rough sections in the second season, but everything that was rough about it came back and was properly landed as a good story element. Some of that is because some very absurd things happen, and some of it is because they tie in items that you don’t expect together. For me the one part that I didn’t love was the third act, though they did a better job than a lot of third acts that I’ve seen. Some of it was just that I hoped a few things would happen that didn’t happen. None of it was weak, it just felt like there was a little bit unneeded. I felt like a lot of it could easily be assumed from how things were left at the end of the previous episode and it would have carried more weight without the third act. It isn’t Harry Potter epilogue level of bad though (I can write about that and third acts later).
Have you seen this anime? What did you think of it?
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Another article on a concept that I’ve been tossing around for a while is how to write time travel, and what generally makes for the most effective time-travel stories. This is going to be focused more heavily on writing about the time travel side of […]