Vision: A Resource for Writers
Holly Lisle's Vision
Whither Wander You?
The Long History Of Urban Fantasy
By Lazette Gifford
2002, Lazette Gifford
How now, Spirit! Whither
Over hill, over dale
Thorough bush, thorough brier
Over park, over pale
Thorough flood, thorough fire
I do wander everywhere...
A Midsummer-Night's Dream
Shakespeare was far from the first writer to bring fairies and other magical
beings into the contemporary world of his time. In A Midsummer-Night's Dream, the world of magic has
touched the world of men, and for this night all manner of mayhem occurs.
But when Shakespeare wrote this wonderful play, he drew on long known
tales and tropes that his audience understood.
as a genre, deals most often with magic. Most
such tales take place in imagined kingdoms on worlds that never existed.
However, in the tales of urban fantasy the magic exists either in the
world as we know it, or can be reached from our world.
the first type of urban fantasy, elves cross over to the mundane world of our
earth, as in the Serrated Edge series, co-written by Mercedes Lackey and several
others, including Holly Lisle. They live in a world that is otherwise
indistinguishable from ours. In
other books they have always been part of the world, which has evolved to
contain both magic and mundane. The
Harry Potter Books fall into that category.
Those might be considered alternate history fantasies.
key point is that magic is part of our world as we know it.
It may have subtly warped our world and taken us a slight step away from
reality, or it may be that we could walk through the cities in those books and
never realize the difference.
the second type of tale we can reach the world of magic through some door or
rift between the mundane and the magical realms.
A good example of these is both The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland
the new sub-genre in this light shows that it has been a part of storytelling since the beginning.
Nearly every emerging culture has dealt with stories where the magical
world impinged on the real. Celtic tales are rife with fey folk, from the pookas
in the streams to the banshees riding the winds.
Native American tribes often have tales that link the real world with the
spirit world. While not urban fantasy when it is part of the religious beliefs
of a people, this does point out that tales of links between what we perceive as
reality and magic are not limited to fiction.
living in medieval times and before were more apt to accept the tales as true.
They lived in a world less understood than our own, and what couldn't be
explained in rational terms was often given a supernatural cause.
The fey, fairies and hobgoblins lived in the dark woods, and the tales of
human encounters filled the nights before books, let alone electronic
entertainment, took over the role of the storyteller.
Only gradually did those creatures take on Christian form as angels and
to Carolly Erickson, in his book The Medieval Vision: Essays in History and
Perception (ISBN 0-19-501964-4), they did not view the world in quite the same
way that we do:
view was not limited to uneducated peasants.
The real and the magical impinged on one another at all levels.
Mythical creatures adorned the carefully illuminated pages of religious
books, while the edges of maps the oceans were filled with such dire warnings as
"Here abide monsters."
at least in Western culture, tales of magic gradually become folklore rather
than accepted fact. The story of
Thomas the Rhymer is an excellent example of Medieval Urban Fantasy.
Walking through the countryside, Thomas meets a beautiful woman and begs
her for a kiss. For this she condemns him to seven years in the fairylands
and away he goes with her. In
a linked tale, Tam Lin, a young woman wins him back.
the imaginary tales of people like Shakespeare, the enlightened ages of the
Renaissance and Age of Exploration fashioned their own urban fantasy myths that
still crept into common belief. We
find them in such tales as the ones that sent Ponce De Leon off in search of the
Fountain of Youth. The Quest for El
Dorado may also be likened to an urban fantasy tale, with the belief in a city
of gold, where people lived a life far removed from the world of normalcy.
Western Civilization, it was not educational enlightenment that finally banished
urban fantasy to fiction books, but rather the ruthlessness of the Industrial
Age. Magic no longer had a place in
the real world. Shangri-La disappeared underneath a stack of satellite-generated
maps. Elves, fairies, pixies and
even the troll beneath the bridge departed unnoticed from the real world to take
their places in the pages of books.
With that change also came the new and burgeoning genre of horror, as recognized separately from the myths of earlier ages. Horror that uses the supernatural as a base can be considered a form of urban fantasy, since the dark creatures of these stories stalk the streets of a world usually otherwise indistinguishable from those of the book's time.
now this form has mutated yet again, and the vampires that had been solely
regulated to the role of monsters are now sometimes being transformed into
heroes for Dark Fantasy. No longer
confined to evil roles, they have stepped out of the shadows and helped create a
new type of urban fantasy tale.
writing urban fantasy, don't limit it to the contemporary world.
Consider the possibilities of elves with australopithecines, and vampires
in the Old West -- which is a growing market in ebooks, by the way.
Consider it historical urban fantasy, and let your imagination run away with
all writing, urban fantasy is neither new nor static:
It is really the fresh ideas that we bring to storytelling that makes all