Tough Guide to Fantasy Clichés: The Fuzzies

Here is one of my posts from my Tough Guide to Clichés series!  Because we can never have enough fuzzies…

_________________________________________________________________________________________

I’ve really been enjoying my month in Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland and all of the marvelous clichés that she has brought to my attention.  What I think I have learned while writing these (and perhaps, you have, by reading them) is that while there are always cliché ways to present your world and characters, there also just as many ways to avoid or even to utilize those clichés to make our fantasylands better.  An awareness of the stereotypes gives us greater power over our worlds.

And what megalomaniacal, world-building author does not want greater power?

So we’ve covered names, colour-coding, and villains thus far.  I want to touch on something a little smaller, a detail that might not even come into consideration when we are writing.  But when you think about it, it is a little strange.

pangur ban cat rabbit friends
Pangur Ban is a magic cat and Bella is a soulless, power-hungry, would-be villain. I think they both merit a story or two.

The question that Jones presents in one of her entries is this: Where are all the fuzzies?

Specifically, how do animals figure into your storytelling?

First, let’s see what Diana Wynne Jones has to say:

Animals. See Enemy Spies, Food, and Transport.  Apart from creatures expressly designed for one of these three purpose, there appear to be almost no animals in Fantasyland.  Any other animals you meet will be the result either of Wizard’s Breeding Programme or of Shapeshifting.  You may on the other hand hear things, such as roaring, trampling, and frequently the hooting of owls, but these are strongly suspected to be sound effects only, laid on by the Management when it feels the need for a little local colour.

Domestic Animals are as rare as wild Animals.  In most cases their existence can be proved only by deduction.  Thus, sheep must exist, because people wear wool, and so must cattle, as there is usually cheese to eat.  Cats are seen in company with Witches and Crones, often in large numbers, but seldom elsewhere, and there have been sightings also of solitary pigs; possibly in Fantasyland cats are herd animals whereas pigs are not.  Goats are seen oftener (and may even provide the cheese) and dogs are frequent but often rather feral – the arrival of a Tour party at a Village is usually greeted by barking dogs.  Dogs are also kept in numbers by Kings and nobles, where their job is to be scavengers: you throw bones on the floor and the dogs fight for them.  These hounds cannot be kept for hunting (except perhaps for hunting men and Mutant Nasties), as there are no Animals to hunt.

The thoughtful Tourist might like to pause here and consider, since Animals are so rare, what exactly the meat is that the Management puts in its Stew.

Another use for animals: as desks.
My brother demonstrates another use for animals: as desks.

Now, then, let’s talk about the animals.  When I read this, I remember feeling a very twingy sense of concern because my fantasy serial The Holder Wars has fallen prey to exactly this description of animals.  There are horses for “Transportation” and then there are plenty of shapeshifters.  But my land has been peculiarly lacking in pretty much anything else.

Oops.

But here’s the conundrum: We want to create a world that is realistic and immersive and natural.  On the other hand, we want to tell a story and relate action and dialogue and characterization.  This means we do have to make some choices about what is important to describe and what isn’t.  If I were to write a chase scene through the woods, I wouldn’t stop the narrative for a moment to point out some bluebirds nesting in one of the trees my characters is frantically riding past.  I don’t need to tell the reader everything on Old MacDonald’s farm when my character passes by or stops in, do I?  We do need to have boundaries, and in many ways, it does make sense to only bring up things like animals when they are actually integral in some way to the plot.  Otherwise, the book becomes a ponderous tome of details.

chicken food
Dogs are desks… and chickens are cuddly snacks. This child lives in an interesting world.

And fuzzies just aren’t worth it.

So what do we do with animals?  Of course, we continue to use them in our stories in various ways, whether it is the usual horse transportation or as game to be shot or as magical changelings.  Otherwise, I think we would do well to be aware of any significant gap in our description, such as of a forest or farmland, and where we might add some animals.

It might do us some good to read what Jones has to say about horses as well:

Horses are a breed unique to Fantasyland.  They are capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest.  Sometimes they do not require food or water.  They never cast shoes, go lame, or put their hooves down holes, except when Management deems it necessary, as when the forces of the Dark Lord are only half an hour behind.  They never otherwise stumble … But for some reason you cannot hold a conversation while riding them.  If you want to say anything to another Tourist (or vice versa), both of you will have to rein to a stop and stand staring out over a Valley while you talk.  Apart from this inexplicable quirk, Horses can be used just like bicycles, and usually are.  Much research into how these exemplary animals come to exist has resulted in the following: no mare ever comes into season on the Tour and no Stallion ever shows an interest in a mare; and few Horses are described as geldings.  It therefore seems probably that they breed by pollination.  This theory seems to account for everything, since it is clear that the creatures do behave more like vegetables than mammals.

The same issues apply with horses,  I think, when it comes to description in stories.  If we were to be completely and utterly realistic, we would also be completely and utterly boring.  However, I do like Jones’ point about horses needing rest and the issue of stallions, mares, and geldings.  These are small practicalities that might be worth bringing into consideration.

Unless, of course, your horses do in fact breed by means of pollination, which is another matter entirely.  And I would like to read that story.

belted gallowy
Cow is sad because she is not in a story.

So, what are your thoughts on fuzzies in fantasyland?  Do you think that novels tend to dismiss them too easily or do you think that it is generally a matter of space and practicality?  Do fuzzies matter to you?

Advertisements

Coming Soon: Encountering Otherworlds, Revised Edition

From “Oh, Deer! A Tiger!”

Gretchen’s cousin Hans was a fourth-year botany student at Grimmsworld University and for his senior project he decided to visit her in the Big, Scary Forest to collect leaf samples.

On the day of his arrival, Gretchen watched from inside her step-mother’s cottage’s window as he stepped off Big Scary Forest Bus #71.  With a bearish growl, the bus drove off into the trees, leaving behind a heavy cloud of exhaust.

Gretchen watched as Hans took stock of his luggage.  He had his suitcase, his knapsack, a small fanny pack, and–most importantly–his leaf book and magnifying glass, both of which he kept in his front shirt pocket.

Gretchen laughed.  He was paler than the underbelly of a fish.  He wore circle-rimmed glasses and a neat bow tie.  He wore a safari hat that in an odd way complemented his comfortable, new hiking shoes.

Halfway to the cottage door, the student spotted a leaf.  He set down his luggage, picked up the leaf, studied it with his magnifying glass, and then pressed it into his book.

For a moment, Gretchen wavered between running outside and waiting for Hans to knock.  But she couldn’t help herself.  The cottage door flew open and she ran out, her brown hair trailing behind her.  She threw her arms around Hans and shouted, “You’re here!  You’re here!”

Hans dropped his magnifying glass and hugged her back.  “Greetings, Cousin!  It’s good to see you!”

Gretchen pulled stray hairs out of her mouth and as she set them back behind her neck, she said, “You’re tall!”

“I suppose I am!  It’s been a time since I left for school after the family reunion.”

At the reunion several years ago, Gretchen had been eleven–six years younger than Hans.  That had all been before Gretchen and her father had moved into the Big, Scary Forest.  Since then, her father had married Aggy, bringing her and her daughter Ethel into the family.  Then he had died fourteen months ago leaving Gretchen alone with those two.

Hans smiled at her. “How have you been, Cousin?  Have you been brushing your teeth?”

“Of course, I have!  Have you been getting good grades?”

“Well…”

“Hans!”

“Of course I have–indubitably.  Where should I put my things?”

“I’ll show you your room.”

Gretchen grabbed the suitcase and led Hans into the cottage.  Inside they found Ethel and Aggy sitting in the living room.  When they saw Hans, Aggy sprang up and gave Hans a singularly motherly hug.

“Gretchen’s told me so much about you.  I’m Agatha but you can call me Aggy.  It’s so good to finally meet you.  How was your trip?”  The woman had dark hair and a marble-sized wart on the right side of her nose.  She was about fifteen pounds over “comfortably plump” and wore pointed shoes.

Gretchen hurried further into the house and set Hans’s suitcase in his room and then came back.

When she returned, she heard Agatha say, “Oh, Ethel, get up, girl, and come meet your step-cousin, Hans.”

Ethel did so, television remote still in her right hand.  She stood by her mother and said to Hans’s shoes, “Nice to meet you, Step-Cousin Hans.”  She was miserably thin and had no wart, but her hair was blacker than her mother’s.

“It’s a delight to meet you too, Ethel.”

“Her friends call her Ethy.  You can call her Ethy too,” Aggy said smiling.

Ethel rolled her eyes, turned around, and went back to her couch.  She turned the volume up on the TV.

Gretchen interrupted, “Come on, Hans.  I’ll show you your room.”

“I’ll come too,” said Aggy.  “Come on Ethy.  You come too.  You can show Hans our humble home.”

As Ethel sighed and pulled herself up from the couch, Gretchen led them on to Hans’s room.  Agatha and Ethel crowded in to help him order his things. . . .

 

 

Finally, Agatha asked him if he needed a few minutes to finish unpacking by himself and before he could answer, she ordered both the other two girls out and she herself left.

 

As they left, Hans called after them, “Thank you for your beneficent help.  I shall finish here and rejoin you presently.”

 

As the three females were leaving, Hans barely heard Aggy say to Gretchen, “Girl!  Does he always speak like that?”

 

“Sometimes worse, Mrs. Aggy,” Gretchen murmured.

 

“I see…”

 

While Gretchen began preparing dinner, Aggy kept talking to Hans in the living room and asking him questions.  “You know, Ethy wants to go to Grimmsworld University too.  She’s very smart.  I’m thinking she’d do best in nuclear physics.  What do you think?”

 

“It’s a good program,” Hans said.  “Though I don’t quite have the patience for that sort of thing myself.  My GPA would take ‘a-tomble’ if I tried that major.”

 

Gretchen noticed what Hans had done and smiled at Hans, but Agatha continued talking and Ethel continued being silent.

 

“So how were you able to afford it, Hans?  You see, that’s my worry mainly.  I know my dear is quite intelligent enough to learn on that level.  She started reading when she was five, you know.  But I just don’t know how we’ll afford it.  I suppose there are scholarships and things like that but it’s always so difficult to find them.  And I’m sure they’re made to favor richer families.  Could you give her some tips on essay writing?  Maybe show her some scholarships she could win?”

 

“I received several scholarships myself and I’ve been working as a research assistant for approximately six months now.”  Hans unzipped his fanny pack revealing insulin and a blood sugar monitor.  He listened as he checked his blood sugar.

 

“But do you know of any scholarships that would suit Ethy here?”
Gretchen listened with horror as the talk continued.  She saw that Agatha was doing something to the already prepared pot of spaghetti sauce and she was worried for her cousin.  But she could say nothing at that point.  Agatha would get very angry if she interfered.

Simple family drama? I’m a frayed knot! Find out what’s really going on in Lantern Hollow Press’s short story anthology, Encountering Otherworlds and the Coming of Age, arriving to online bookshelves July 15. Read stories of children entering worlds of imagination–and find out if they can make it out alive! We cannot wait to share these wonderful tales, written by our very own Lantern Hollow Press staff. Mark you calendar today!

Coming Soon: Encountering Otherworlds, Revised Edition

From “The Red Cap”

A bright red St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap glowed in the light of the morning sun as James rummaged through cardboard boxes to find a clean t-shirt, pair of jeans, and socks. His dad had bought the cap for him on the family’s last trip to Busch Stadium before the big move to North Carolina a week ago. After James got dressed, he smoothed his blonde hair and fitted the hat on his head. It made his ears stick out, but he wore it all the same.

He walked downstairs and faced the towers of cardboard boxes and plastic bins that cluttered the living room.

“Dad!” James called. His mother’s head popped over a stack of boxes labeled OFFICE.

“Good morning, love,” she said.

“Hi, Mom.” James looked around. “Where’s Dad?”

“At work.”

Again?” James groaned. “It’s Saturday. He’s worked every day since we’ve moved, and he promised he would take me to the park today to get some extra practice in before school starts on Monday.”

His mother’s eyebrows rose. “James, Dad did not make that promise. All he said was ‘We’ll see.’ We’ve told you several times his new job would make him work on the weekends sometimes. Why don’t you go outside? The front yard’s plenty big. Take your ball and bat and practice your swinging.”

“It would be better if Dad was here,” James muttered.

“James!” his mother’s voice was rising. “I’m sorry your father has to work today and can’t take you to the park. Things are not going to be like they were in St. Louis. Now, please, go outside or you can help me unpack. Your choice.”

They glared at each other for a moment. “Fine,” James huffed. He put on his sneakers and jacket and opened the front door, not bothering to take his ball and bat.

He shoved his hands in his pockets and stalked across the yard toward the oak tree next to the gravel driveway. The branches spread across the driveway, creating a canopy that barely reached the woods on the other side. The moss swayed in the cool breeze, and acorns crunched under James’s feet as he approached the tree. He slumped down at the base and tossed his hat on the ground in front of him. He picked up several acorns and lobbed them across the driveway into the trees on the other side. The acorns smacked the leaves of the low-hanging branches.

Through a gap in the branches, something moved. “Dumb squirrels,” James mumbled. He hurled a single acorn into the branches. They shuddered, and two human eyes stared back at him.

James blinked, startled. Then, the wind howled and whirled dirt, moss, and twigs around him. It lifted the red hat and carried it toward the woods. James reached for it, but the wind picked up and he had to shield his face with his arms. The wind and debris whipped around him for a few seconds, then stopped. James lifted his head to see his hat disappear into the woods beyond the driveway.  The eyes in the tree had vanished.

He sprang up and dashed toward the spot where his hat had disappeared. He crashed through the branches and stood facing the forest. The trees grew thick and tall, and James could barely see the forest beyond or the sky above. He walked through the dense woods, the twigs and leaves snapping and crunching beneath him. As he continued to walk, the forest began to change. The trees resembled wrinkly faces, which scowled at James, and he had to maneuver his way around their low bony branches. The sound of his footsteps seemed to echo among the thick, gnarled trees. He walked for several minutes until he came to space amongst the trees where a fallen elm lay. As James scanned the elm tree, he saw his hat emerge from the other side of the trunk—and so did the thing holding it.

James stepped back and gasped. A small man with a gruesome face surrounded by a thick mane of dark crimson hair stood and flexed his sturdy, hunched back. He wore a dirty, tattered traveling cloak, jerkin, and breeches, and held a walking staff with a pewter point at the end. It stared at James with unblinking blood-shot eyes. . . .

Creepy! What the heck is this thing that has stolen James’s hat? Discover the secret July 15! Lantern Hollow Press is releasing a revised edition of its short story anthology, Encountering Otherworlds and the Coming of Age. Read stories of children entering worlds of imagination–and find out if they can make it out alive! We cannot wait to share these wonderful tales, written by our very own Lantern Hollow Press staff. Mark you calendar today!

Coming Soon: Encountering Otherworlds, Revised Edition

From “Destiny, Werewolves, and How I Might Have Helped Save the World”

Some people are meant to live happy, but ordinary lives, while some are dragged irresistibly into danger, glory, and the pressures of heroism.  It’s Fate or Destiny or Something-Even-Bigger-Than-Both. And there’s nothing that person can do to stop it. Well, in this story, that person whose Fate was sealed on the first day of her junior year of high school was not me.  My life is set on a track of the happy, ordinary, and completely free from glory or heroism.  The most dangerous thing that I am facing is college applications and I am perfectly happy for it to stay that way.

The girl dragged into adventure and glory and heroism and all that other stuff, the girl with Fate written on her forehead in shining letters, was the new girl at school with the locker next to mine.  So I guess you could say I had a brush with Fate, but mostly Fate just glanced dismissively at me before shouldering me aside so that it could get a better look at Katrina Starr.  Pretty much like every jock in school would try to do that year.

With a name like Kat Starr, you knew she had to be something special.  With platinum blonde hair, blue eyes that blazed defiantly at the world in general, and a tall, slim, athletic build that simply screamed I-take-some-special-form-of-martial-arts-after- school-and-could-kick-your-butt, it was surprising that no one else seemed to notice that she was marked for Greatness. But I guess that’s how it is with these heroes-to-be.  They don’t notice Fate until it punches them in the gut. Or kisses them passionately.  Fate can be awkward like that.

On the first day of school, when it all began, Kat and I were fiddling with our locker combinations and I was chatting with my good friend Colin. Colin is a girl, by the way, but her parents are that kind of people who think that mixing up names will make their children feel unique and special instead of giving them anger management issues.  Colin has an older brother named Ashley.

Colin and I were comparing notes on our summers holidays – she spent half of hers in Europe and I spent most of mine in my room reading (but I still maintained I visited more places) –  when a mysterious Entity was suddenly looming behind me. Colin didn’t really pay attention, but I found myself listening in on a conversation between Kat and The Stranger.

 

“Hello, Katrina Starr,” he began in a deep, sultry voice.  I had never described a voice as sultry before, not being a huge fan of soap operas, but his was definitely what I think a sultry voice would sound like. Kind of… throaty.

“Do I know you?” Kat responded, flicking her silvery blonde hair over her shoulder.  I wasn’t facing them, but it’s impossible not to catch the shimmer of that hair out of the corner of your eye.  “How do you know my name?”

We know a lot about you, Kat,” The Sultry Stranger continued, sounding pleased with himself.  “We’ve been waiting for you.”

“Well, get lost, whoever you are,” Kat challenged.  I admired the new girl’s spunk.  “Whatever your game is, I’m not interested.”  And she brushed past him and walked away.

The Sultry Stranger waited a moment to contemplate her disappearing form, and then stalked off in the opposite direction.  I spared him a glance.  Oh, it was only Jake, quarterback of the football team and senior stud of Gracetree High School.  He didn’t normally sound like that, I thought.  What had made him talk so weird to Kat?  Probably just an attempt to hit on her.  Typical.

“Ugh, this year is going to be awful,” Colin groaned.  “I think I can predict the future: homework, homework, and then more homework!”

“I like homework,” I said complacently.  I meant it, too.  Homework, college, grad school, successful career, book about my successful career, retirement on a beach somewhere.  I had dreams of being normal that I was eager to fulfill.

If Kat Starr had any dreams of being normal, though, she was being forced to give them up.

After first period, I ran back to my locker to grab my calculator for my next class and there was Kat, this time with three guys and a girl standing around of her, talking very intently to her.

I sidled closer, unwilling to eavesdrop if I didn’t have to.  I’m polite like that.  But her locker was right next to mine and Jake was leaning against the door of my locker so I had to request that he scoot over so I could get in.  He did, without looking at me.

“It’s impossible,” Kat whispered, sounding upset.  I thought about humming, to block out their voices and so they’d know I was there, since Jake already seemed to have forgotten.

“You can’t deny it any more than we can,” said the girl.  That was Paige from the cheer squad.  Jake’s ex-girlfriend as of last fall. Now she was dating Jake’s teammate Andre, one of the other guys who was looming over Kat. I wondered how they could all still be friends after that much drama, but who was I to judge?

“I’m a clairvoyant,” Paige continued, perfectly serious, “and you’re a hunter.”

“I don’t want to be a hunter!” Kat exclaimed.  “I don’t believe in werewolves!”

Want to know what happens next? Find out July 15 if you order a copy of Lantern Hollow Press’s short story anthology, Encountering Otherworlds and the Coming of Age. Read stories of children entering worlds of imagination–and find out if they can make it out alive! We cannot wait to share these wonderful tales, written by our very own Lantern Hollow Press staff. Mark you calendar today!

Coming Soon: Encountering Otherworlds, Revised Edition

from “A Boy Named Forgotten”

There once was a boy born unwanted and who, therefore, was quickly forgotten.  By the time he could walk, the only person who had ever cared for him left.  Not because the child was a problem; on the contrary, the boy was sweet of temperament if not timid or shy.  She left in a huff, for her wages were unfulfilled and her virtue challenged by the very evil father. Being a moral sort, she could not bear the unsolicited advances.  Having no means of her own, she reluctantly abandoned the boy child.

Now there was no one to change his shirt and he was left to his own devices.  The boy stalked his father’s corridors, hunting for scraps from the tea trays.  The day he discovered the kitchen was so glorious a find that he nearly whooped for joy.  However fearing the stern, plump cook, he swallowed all enthusiasm and waited for his opportunity to pounce in the unsuspecting meat trays.  From then on, the boy’s life grew much simpler; he no longer needed to fear the dark, endless nights in which the distant sounds of frivolity combined with the near groans of his stomach kept him awake.

Another great day in the boy’s young life was the day he made a friend.  It had rained for several weeks and the days were finally bright and clear.  A brisk wind whipped the trees, snowing cherry blossoms.  The boy stole away up to the widow’s walk.  The walk was lined with grotesque figures of demons and gargoyles.  The boy ran his fingers over the sun-warmed stones and shivered.  They frightened him.

“They just stones,”  he said, taking comfort in the sound of his voice.

“They just stones,”  a voice quipped back.

“Who’s there?”

“Who’s there?”

At this the boy stumbled back—stopping only when a gargoyle’s horn pierced his shoulder.

“Ahhoowh”

“Ahhough…eck!”  The voice choked rather pathetically and then snickered gaily.

“Not funny!”  the boy replied sorely.

“Not funny?  Sorry.”  The voice came closer.

“Who’s you?”

“I’m me.”

“And you?”  The boy was feeling less afraid.  There was something gentle in the scratchy, little voice.

“Me!”  And the voice appeared as a tiny grey-blue lizard.  “Leviathan.”

“Lavathan?”

“Close…Le -VI – a – than.”  The lizard slunk forward and put his claws on the boy’s bare feet.  “And You?”

“I am Forgotten.”

“We should be friends.”

“Friends?” Forgotten moved, positioning himself more comfortably. “What’s that?”

“Never heard of friends?  Why that’s two pals—two of a kind talking, walking, stalking the house, grounds, woods, world…why everybody ought to have a friend.”

“Oh, I’d like that.”

And just like that, they were friends, companions, blood-brothers of a sort.  They uncovered the secrets of the basements, the treasures in the attic, and on pleasant days they studied the grounds, playing tricks on the gardeners, stealing pies out of cooling racks, and even snatching clothes off the line—only when needed.  Together they grew strong and cunning.

One day, Forgotten and Leviathan woke to the sounds of silence. Forgotten could never remember a time in which the house and grounds were so quiet.  He and Leviathan wandered through the corridors but found no tea trays going to random rooms, no maids scuttling about.  In the kitchen there was no shrewd cook barking at the scullery or sculleries to be yelled at.  Only a cold hard loaf of bread sat on the table.  Forgotten and Leviathan nibbled at it skeptically—not even the hounds yelped in the yard.  Forgotten ran to the door and flung it open.  The garden and chicken yards were empty.  Only a dusty layer of snow covered the place.  He shivered and closed the door slowly.

“They’ve gone!”

Leviathan jumped from the table.  “Gone?”

“Gone, gone!  No people, no animals…just you and me!”

“That’s the way it should be!”  Leviathan said and he stuffed the last of the crust into his mouth.

It was on this day that life became challenging. The last leg of winter was rather cold and hungry. But Forgotten considered all things to be good. He had the house, the grounds, the wood all to himself and Leviathan.  They did not have to sneak from corner to corner, room to room, hiding from the inhabitants—they were the inhabitants. He and Leviathan knew every nook and cranny and now it was theirs.  The first few weeks, Forgotten was leery of the whole situation—it seemed too good.  Leviathan assured him that they truly had gone and were not coming back.

And they did not come back. . . .

Want to know what happens to Forgotten and Leviathan? On July 15, you can! Lantern Hollow Press is releasing a revised edition of its short story anthology, Encountering Otherworlds and the Coming of Age. Read stories of children entering worlds of imagination–and find out if they can make it out alive! We cannot wait to share these wonderful tales, written by our very own Lantern Hollow Press staff. Mark you calendar today!