Cycles of Magic: A Fantasy and Science Fiction Media Montage
Writing about my favourite fantasy and sci-fi books/films could easily be a huge subject, but I shall endeavour to restrain myself and stick to those that stood out to me and vary in tone. I also assume some familiarity with the works, so apologies if the briefness leaves anyone confused!
Delving into fantasy, I’m no different to many others in being captured by the Middle-earth series by J.R.R. Tolkien, specifically The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) and The Silmarillion (TS).
I read LOTR first, and what leapt out to me was how vibrant and real this world was that Tolkien had created. He spun tales of elves, men, women, and hobbits, weaving it all into a backdrop that felt ancient with whispers of an age long gone.
A good example of this is the snippets of languages strewn throughout the book as an author might drop the occasional Latin or French reference. This granted the languages the feeling of authenticity as if they were fragments either from a world long lost or slowly fading away.
The themes of honour, morality, the strong ties of friendship, courtly love, and that the smallest person could achieve the greatest of deeds were engrossing. How refreshing to read about a hero who didn’t struggle with his heritage. Aragorn knows he must remove Sauron from Middle-earth and is devoted to that task through his commitment to the Fellowship. Whatever trials he faces, he stays resolute, and he doesn’t shy away from his future as reclaiming the throne of Gondor (and consequently gaining Arwen’s hand in marriage).
Faramir was and remains my favourite. When he meets Frodo, he never desires the Ring or tries to take it. Rather, when he understands Frodo and Sam’s mission, he aids them as much as he can. I thank Tolkien for his addition. To have such a pure, noble character is inspiring. An example of such goodness and purity gave me hope that such nobility, not in the sense of noble blood but of character, can be found in this world and that one can try and aspire to Faramir’s level.
Sam’s bravery, loyalty to Frodo, and friendship are beyond words. Without him Frodo would have failed at the last. Without Frodo the world would have fallen. The goodness and courage we witness in these hobbits is a stark reminder that the smallest and humblest of peoples can defeat a great evil and is a lesson in humility.
In contrast, TS is an epic on another scale. Like the Bible, it tells of the creation of Middle-earth, of elves, humans, and dwarves. Tolkien’s Catholic heritage is more prevalent here than LOTR, which had more subtle hints. The fall of Melkor, (a Vala, similar to an angel), the staining of Middle-earth as a result and the temptation that is then present for the elves is all detailed in TS.
The scale is breath-taking, with Tolkien taking us through great glories (such as the forging of the Silmarils by Feanor) to terrible tragedies (elf kin slaying elf kin due to Feanor’s obstinacy), and the resultant war in Middle-earth is like reading a history of our own world, with a haunting reminder of how Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden and the subsequent corruption of humans.
The saddest tales unravel from there, with heroes besotted by ill-fate, jealously, and misunderstandings – none moreso perhaps than the grievous tale of Turin Turambar – are contrasted by tales where love manages to succeed. The most well-known is, of course, Luthien the most beautiful immortal elf-maiden who falls in love with Beren, a man. They suffer much danger and adventure to be together until upon Beren’s death Luthien follows him and pleads with Mandos, the Vala of death, to join him in the afterlife as the souls of men and elves are separate in death.
They are given a chance to live again as mortals with Luthien foregoing the immortality of the elves. It is a beautifully sweet yet bitter story, for Luthien’s father is left devastated in her wake, and it is a love that is repeated in Arwen and Aragorn LOTR.
Well, I love that sort of grand epic, almost ballad-like storytelling, so TS had me hooked as well. The language was slightly tricky, and I admittedly gave up on locations even with the aid of maps, but that is down to my poor sense of direction in general. One last mention before I move on are the poems and songs throughout both novels, which do lend another air of authenticity, helping create the idea Tolkien had that this could have been our own forgotten past.
LOTR and TS are wholly different to any other fantasy work I have read then or since and remain firm favourites.
In contrast, the Circle of Magic quartet by Tamora Pierce is the opposite end of fantasy books–aimed at children but very good reads! Here another world is fabricated, and it is full of magic that is openly acknowledged and trained. Women here can be warriors, join the guards (city police) just as well as being mothers and wives. The social contrast between nobility and poor is well-done, too. What attracted me to this series are the four children through which the story is told.
Their magic is different to the magic practised in magical universities. Their magic is the everyday work magic: smithing, weather, planting, and weaving. All of these are vital to the backbone of society but naturally appear not as grand as casting great spells of invisibility, healing, and seeing the future!
They quickly learn, as does the reader, how the everyday magic is just as powerful, just as dangerous and how it can both aid people and endanger lives – their own and innocents’. The broken children from painful backgrounds and different social status (one is a noble girl, one a merchant girl, one a trader girl, and one a boy thief) heal slowly throughout the books, fashion friendships, and grow as individuals. I enjoyed all this, but even more the unusual magic the author had developed.
It was strangely comforting to read about weaving garments and sewing where, if one had the magical ability, they could weave healing spells into the cloth or invisibility into cloaks, plant magic that nurtures the soil and encourages growth for food and use in medicines, weather magic to understand nature and help others, and, of course, smithing to add protection and strength to locks, armour, and devices.
Leaving the myriad world of fantasy to the realms of science-fiction, for simplicity and length I shall stick to one selection: Star Trek: The Original Series (ST: TOS).
I confess I didn’t watch this because I had an interest. I was an observer as my father relived the series on the DVD set I had purchased for him. The other Star Trek series I had seen did not capture me at all, so I was sceptical about liking the original series that started it all.
How wrong my assumptions were (but the saying is, ‘don’t assume’, so I should have obeyed)! On a simple level, the colourful uniforms and sets were a wonderful welcoming image. The backdrop of space with using new technology and meeting new races was fascinating and a little similar to fantasy in seeming magical. Building on that were the characters and stories.
The friendship between Spock and Captain Kirk was special. The amusement it generated when Kirk teased Spock with or without Bones’ aid; the moments of worry for each other (as in ‘Amok Time’), playing chess, those scenes where Spock’s human side was encouraged by Kirk and was given more of a spotlight.
Bones was an important part of this friendship, having mostly an antagonistic interaction with Spock, which itself developed over time into mutual respect. In comparison, Bones and Kirk enjoyed a good friendship.
Individually I enjoyed the trio: Kirk for his strength, his determination and wide breadth of knowledge (how he loved books!), and willingness to do the right thing and take action when necessary; Bones for his care for the crew, sarcastic tongue, and not being afraid to question Spock; Spock for his logical approach, cleverness, and his struggle against his emotions and with the friendship he felt for Kirk. I appreciated all of them for the loyalty they exhibited towards each other, their mission, and the crew.
I also appreciated how ST: TOS included characters from different nations and gave women a chance to shine, which then was not usual! I must quickly mention the others, not because I love them any less, however: Uhura, Scotty, Chekov, and Sulu. Together they made the Enterprise and brought humour, despair, anger, and strength to the episodes.
Another aspect that struck me was unlike many other shows I’d watched, ST: TOS usually ended on a high note with a strong moral core running throughout the episodes.
These days you fall over shows with ‘realistic’ gritty plots. Yes, life isn’t always cheerful or ends happily, but nor is happiness any less ‘realistic’ than depressing and/or angst driven plots and endings. It is good to have a mixture of both types of programmes (and books!) on television and film, even better if the same show can reflect that mixture over its’ story-arc if it fits.
ST: TOS was about exploring space, ‘the final frontier’. To explore requires a level of hope because who would go to explore space if not for the hope of discovering new life, new knowledge, and experiences? In the highs and lows, failures and successes, ST: TOS showed that good can win. Knowing that good can prevail is vitally important because if we think good never stands a chance, why would anyone bother to try? In any respect, that essentially is why I love ST: TOS, and it stays a favoured sci-fi programme.
On that note ends my journey into my favourite fantasy and sci-fi media. I hope it was enjoyable! May many more worlds and tales be to devised, explored, and characters lives’ told.
By Lila Tulip