Three Views of the Elf-road: By Dawn, by Dark, by Day

Here is a comment by Astro Sorcerer I wanted to share:


Science fiction and fantastic all involve wonder.

It strikes me that there are three ways that characters interact with that wonder.

One way is with yearning for that wonder, seeking to find it. This is indeed that of Frodo Baggins, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and also the mission of the Enterprise. The goal is of the character is to seek and find wonder and the strange and exciting.

The second way is a character recoiling from a horror, or fleeing a fantastic horror or fate. Much of Stephen King’s brilliantly developed characters deal with this: they never wanted to face what they are facing, but must confront it. Greek myth also has this: heroes who were not seeking the supernatural horror inflicted on their lives. The heroes of Terminator and Aliens likewise must deal with fantastic horror.

The third way is a character who deals with the amazing and fantastic in an everyday, workmanlike sense. Harry Dresden is a great example of this, as is Dr. Who. Owin Pitt transforms form the second to the third. To them, the fantastic is the mundane, but still the artist brings a sense of wonder as they deal with it.

With multiple characters, it is possible to have characters deal with the same fantastic event in different ways: wonder, horror, just day at work.

My comment: Bravo! This is an insightful and a clever analysis. Needless to say, I agree.

Allow me to add, that each method requires a different tactic to win reader sympathy.

The first (those who long for adventure) speaks to the reader’s longing, which one assumes any reader of SFF has in plenty. In this case the author should harp on the glamor and mystery and even the nostalgia of high adventure.

Call this the rosy dawn view, when the road to elfland is still softly seen with dewy flowers.

The second speaks to common fears of the uncanny, which even an atheist walking through a moonlit graveyard understands, but also speaks to common fears of being unable to match the task hard fate imposes. Here the author must play up the terror and greatness of what the hero faces, the grotesqueness of it, the danger, as well as cast a longing eye toward the comforts of home.

Call this the midnight view, when the wayfarer casts many a glance back along the road as he walks.

The third speaks to the everyday workingman, which every man who works understands, and in this case the author should play up the skill and hard labor involved, the learning needed to measure up to the task, the toughness or wit of the hero in action, but should also treat the matter with ironic nonchalance, as if he’d seen such things before. Readers understand cool and they like skillful masters at their craft, whether that be time travel or monster hunting (or both).

Call this the noontime view, where the wayfarer is seen whistling, his lunchbucket on shoulder and eyes on the sky, skipping stepping over pitfalls and crushing scorpions without a downward glance, because he knows were they lurk.