Give Me a New Reality
Fantasy is a pretty general term. If I were to tell you I was reading a fantasy novel, what would you really know about it? Magic and elves and orcs would probably come to mind, but the story could just as easily include none of those. It could be dark and depressing with violence, rape, and incest, or it could be light and cheery with fairies and cuddly dragons. It could include earth-shattering, mountain-moving supernatural powers, or it could have no magic at all. It could follow massive armies as they repeatedly clash, or it could follow one lonely man. But none of these subject materials are indicative of quality.
One of the distinctions in fantasy literature I like to make is whether or not a story has some concrete connection to our reality. Most fantasy based on Tolkien has no such connection; it is all about foreign characters in a foreign world. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But having that connection to reality, having a character that starts in our world and discovers a new one, can endear the character to the reader.
No one wants to be picked on by the school bully or lead a thankless nine-to-five job. But sometimes that is reality. Life can be mundane and oppressive. In such circumstances, reading about characters that deal with a similar reality but escape to some fantastical setting can be entertaining and inspiring. It is easier to relate to and empathize with those characters that deal with your everyday tedium or even misery.
Many series have included such characters and alternate realities. There is C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Terry Brooks’ Magic Kingdom of Landover series, and Bruce Coville’s Magic Shop books. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher was a favorite of mine some time ago. I may have to pick it up again. (For a more adult approach, I'd recommend Stephen R. Donaldson's acclaimed Thomas Covenant trilogies (there's rape and misery for you) and Mordant's Need duology (my favourite of the two) -Ed.)
And of course there is Harry Potter. Every little boy and girl wanted a pet owl after reading that series. Really, what underprivileged, under-appreciated child does not want to one day wake up and discover he has magical powers? Who does not want to enter some new world where they are instantaneously famous, respected, and loved?
The Secret World
Since the world-within-a-world theme has worked so well in literature, why not bring it to MMORPGs, the videogame genre most saturated with otherworldly fantasy? This is exactly what Funcom is doing with The Secret World, albeit with a darker Lovecraftian twist.
In the game, you start off as an ordinary human leading an ordinary human life when you inexplicably develop supernatural powers. After spending a few weeks learning how to control them, you are whisked away to your faction’s hub – New York for the Illuminati, Seoul for the Dragons, and London for the Templars. You discover the world down that dark alley where shadows play, the world of rotten darkness behind that white picket fence, the world where puppet-masters make governments and religions and corporations dance. You discover Stephen King’s world. And then you set out to dominate it.