How War is Portrayed in Fantasy

6 Min Read

Aadrito Maitra

Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction set in a fictional universe, often inspired by real-world myths and folklore. Fantasy can be called an effective medium of broadening one’s visions and giving birth to new philosophies, giving writers the scope to impersonate those through surrealism. 

Science fiction and fantasy often get intertwined, specifically in the field of space opera. Movies like Star Trek and those revolving around extraterrestrial beings are often condoned by many as fantasy, and these portray war through the use of non-existent weaponry. 

But keeping aside science fiction — fantasy itself has also proven its aptness in portraying wars, commonly through the use of magic and fantasy creatures such as dragons. A Game of Thrones can be regarded as a war fantasy of such kind, where the wars are fought with medieval age weaponry, mixed with emotions, politics, and traditional morals with a bit of magic and dragon fantasy.

Harry Potter’s Second Wizarding War, aka The Battle of Hogwarts, is another great example. Although the whole Harry Potter series doesn’t revolve around war, this one’s capable enough to be regarded as war, mixed with a lot of emotions and the use of magic, of course. 

Like science fiction, fantasy also has a subgenre: Military fantasy. It mostly revolves around the life of military personnel but portrays wars precisely and efficiently. The military fantasy world has a collection of variant book series; from portraying the day-to-day struggles of soldiers to demonstrating gritty and bloody wars, the subgenre is intertwined with a lot of arenas, for instance real-world history, love, etc.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen book series is an epic military fantasy that is all about war, conquest, and power struggles between empires, gods, and men, with in-depth battle tactics, wizards, and alternate universes. Marie Lu’s Legend from the Legend series is about the cost of being a hero in a hopeless war, love and betrayal, and valour. 

And talking about delineating the day-to-day life of military soldiers, The Black Company series of Glen Cook fits the bill. It talks about the dark quotidian life of the mercenary band, The Black Company, who end up being employed by an evil sorcerer enslaver. Ash: a Secret History also delineates mercenary life with a female lead set in an alternative historical Europe.

However, fantasy doesn’t necessarily have to include magic or dragons. The First Law trilogy revolves around three empires with similarities to the real world; it depicts war through invasionary predicament — that is, each empire invades the other with the incentive of extending their territory. The Thousand Names is another example.

Now, it feels a bit wrong when we are talking about fantasy wars, but missing out on the epic mythical wars. Mythical wars are widely regarded as wars of conquest, and used to prove dominance over others. The Kurukshetra War of the Mahabharata is a great example; it was fought between two groups of relatives, with other kingdoms as allies of the rival groups, for the throne of Hastinapur.

The Titanomachy in Greek mythology, aka the war between the Titans and Olympians which was fought to determine who would have dominion over the universe, can be cited in this regard. The Aesir-Vanir war of the Norse mythology is also mentionable, though the result was their unification into a pantheon.

Additionally, there are instances of wars conducted for the retrieval of abducted women. The Trojan War from The Iliad and the Lanka Kanda from the Ramayana can be cited as examples of such wars. In the Trojan War, the siege that lasted for 10 years, punctuated by battles and skirmishes, resulted in the retrieval of Queen Helen. A bloody war between the armies of Ravan and Ram continued for 13 days, and ended with the retrieval of Ram’s wife, Sita. 

Many real-world issues are being upheld in fantasy wars. Colonialism and domination are two major issues. The instances are presented in literary epics like the mythical wars, the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, etc. Apart from these, political issues are also portrayed in fantasy. Star Wars upholds a lot of constitutional issues like voter ignorance and dominating predicaments such as good people being able to ensure good governance, etc.

A Game of Thrones also addresses a range of political issues, but its perspective on them is not easily classified, at least not along conventional right-left lines. George R R Martin shows the cynicism of political elitists with much concern, which is intricately visible in the real world. However, he has demonstrated the intention of actually ensuring the well-being of the people. 

And lastly, fantasy wars exemplify the oppression that both warriors and common people have to undergo. How unarmed and innocent inhabitants become victims to the brutal combat of soldiers and their superiors is demonstrated. In the end, it is safe to call fantasy a great medium of portraying wars from one’s point of view.


The writer is a part of the TDA Editorial Team. 

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