We all love J.R.R. Tolkien. He’s called the father of fantasy for good reason. His works have been so foundational to the genre that it’s almost impossible to escape their influence, whether as a reader or a writer. It’s one of the main reasons why so many fantasy novels take place in a variance of The Lord of the RIng’s medieval-Britain setting. I bet you’ve read a dozen novels in which the settings could be summed up by the following: rolling green hills, tankards of ale, swords, shields, and riders on horseback.
Don’t get me wrong; I adore Tolkien. Heck, I got the White Tree of Gondor permanently inked into my skin. But I also find myself longing for a bit more variety in the fantasy settings of the novels I read. And so, I present you with four possible settings for your fantasy work that are not rural medieval Britain.
1. PREHISTORIC FANTASY
Magic and dinosaurs—need I say more? I probably should, otherwise this is going to be a very short article.
But seriously, imagine the conflict you can create with dinosaurs and magic. Are the dinosaurs using the magic? Being hunted by humans with magic? Either way—count me in! The prehistoric world is rife with fantastic possibilities. Magical cave people eking out survival in a harsh and unyielding world. Cave paintings that come to life to protect those who created them. Societies that exist pre-writing, or even pre-language. What are the rules of magic when the law of survival is kill or be killed? There are all sorts of interesting stories that can be told at the dawn of time, whether on this world or a completely different one.
2. POST-APOCALYPTIC FANTASY
Though post-apocalyptic wastelands are usually accompanied by mangled tech and other sci-fi hallmarks, there’s no reason that this setting couldn’t work just as well for your next fantasy story. Maybe magic was created by the world-ending catastrophe… or maybe it caused it. Whether your characters are trying to reverse the apocalypse or simply survive in its aftermath, magic would add another layer of complexity and intrigue to the end times.
3. ARCTIC FANTASY
Glittering white death stretches in every direction as far as the eye can see. What unseen horrors lurk below the crust of ice?
Avatar: The Last Airbender made the unexpected choice of having their water-bending tribes live in the arctic, and it left me wanting more. There’s lots to explore other than just elemental magic. Could the spectacle of northern lights be a gateway for the fae? Do vampires roam the snowy landscape when winter comes and the world is thrust into months-long darkness? Is a melting glacier in danger of releasing an ancient power contained within? Towering castles made of ice, migrating herds of fantastic beasts, quests across remote and frigid snowscapes—this is about as far from forest and field as your can get!
4. CARIBBEAN FANTASY
While this may sound like the title of a bodice-ripping romance novel, it’s also a great setting for a magical tale. There is something undeniably appealing about the juxtaposition of idyllic scenery with twisted magics. Give us “Caribbean horror fantasy” or give us death! Pirates of the Caribbean explored magic in this setting, but there are so many more elements of island life that can be incorporated into a fantasy story. You could create a system of islands which each contain a different variety of magic, or a tropical jungle hiding the portent of a prophecy. The ever-present dangers of dehydration, heat exhaustion, and encountering deadly fauna would up the stakes for any poor character navigating their way through this landscape.
While it can be easy to default into a Tolkien-esque landscape, try delving a little deeper when crafting your next world. What does your setting add to your story? How does it shape, contain, and influence the themes you want to explore? Do your characters interact with it, or is it merely a backdrop for the action? Is there a super-cool image you can’t get out of your head? Challenge yourself to think out of the box for your next fantasy story—we can’t wait to see what you come up with!