Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #4-1: Dark Phantasy

There is one more enormous genre that hasn’t been corrupted by horror in this series, fantasy. The broadest category of fantasy generally refers to medieval high-magic settings. There are magical creatures of every stripe, races that interact and conflict with humans, and magic that is a powerful force wielded to far-reaching affect on the world and everything in it. Most of the stories take place in medieval Europe though often details like how feudal life worked, peasants lived, and their ability to do things within the hierarchical caste system sometimes falls to the wayside. To a large extent taking the time period forward to modern eras--anything 1900s or later--has already been covered. There are some settings in the industrial age but that will come later.

It is a common belief that it is nearly impossible to bring about real horror in the traditional fantasy setting, much like it is claimed to be in the super-hero genre seen in comics. The main point of contention is that which makes it fantasy in the first place, the in your face, capable of anything, game-changing, world-defining magic. Deities have influence and power in these settings if only through their priests and followers. There are rarely infernal beings without celestial counterparts. Then there are the heroic aspects aside from the magic. Knights and Paladins wander the lands performing monster-slaying deeds and facing off against impossible odds like battling fire breathing, arcane infused, dragons. These brave souls often face and defeat the masters of magic as well.

The answer as usual to tackling this problem is all about the setting. It starts with asking the right questions and choosing the answers that will aid the horror at all levels. Working within the constraints of the genre as it stands on its own is only one of two options. Changes can be made to the fantasy genre assumptions since the type of fantasy discussed thus far is the largest chunk, not the only chunk. Magic in a horror fantasy requires a different approach if not an alteration in power level. Scale is another important factor to consider and can make great differences in the quantity and quality of horror in the setting. Perspective is going to be another factor that is important in imparting horror to the settings and plots. These are the starting points upon which to proceed.

Music: Objects in the Rear View Mirror by Meatloaf and Watching Over Me by Iced Earth.

Meat Loaf: Bat Out of Hell II
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Iced Earth: Something Wicked This Way Comes
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