Greetings from the Odinson,
“…the magic runes are writ in gold to bring the balance back, bring it back…at last, the sun is shining, the clouds of blue roll by, with flames from the dragon of darkness…the sunlight blinds his eyes…” Led Zeppelin, The Battle of Evermore
The stories by J.R.R. Tolkien captured the imaginations of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page and inspired them to write some of the greatest music of the 20th century. That is the power of the Fantasy genre. It ignites the flames of imagination and opens up the mind’s eye to reveal worlds of wonder, danger, magic, myth, and romance. Imagination is unlimited, therefore the scope of Fantasy is boundless.
This week, the Odinson continues his series of genre in pop culture, a series began with looks at my favorite Science Fiction and Horror, by delving into the worlds of might and magic, fairies and dragons, knights and wizards, elves and gnomes, and everything in-between.
The Odinson’s Favorite Fantasy in Pop Culture
Movie: The Lord of the Rings – Of all the mediums on this list, Movie was by far and away the hardest to narrow down. There are so many great Fantasy movies out there, especially ones made in the decade of the ‘80s (see The Golden Age of Fantasy). But, the Odinson must tip his winged-helmet to the modern masterpiece that is the Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson, his cast and crew capture the essence, the power, and the romance of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic novels. The movies are beautifully shot, superbly acted, and the viewer can tell the makers of the films love the source material just as much as anyone who has ever cracked open the books and ventured to the mystical realm of Middle-earth. Honorable Mentions: The Sword and the Sorcerer, Conan the Barbarian, Dragonslayer, Clash of the Titans, Beastmaster, LadyHawke, Highlander, and Willow.
TV: Game of Thrones – This medium was by far the easiest for the Odinson to decipher. Sure there have been television shows about Conan, Sinbad, Beastmaster, and any other figure from the history of the genre, but those have all been covered in other mediums, and far better. HBO’s Game of Thrones is on a level all its own. Based on the novel series A Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin, each episode is like watching a one hour movie. The scope of the tale, the intrigue and rich characters, and the level of world-building makes Game of Thrones not just the best Fantasy TV show of All-Time, it is one of the best TV shows of All-Time. Period. Honorable Mentions: Highlander, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and Xena: Warrior Princess.
Book: The Crystal Shard – Back in 1988, as I strolled the aisles of the bookstore at the mall, the stunning cover art of this book caught my attention and captured my imagination. Legendary fantasy artist Larry Elmore created a vivid moment that all at once told a story and urged me to find out what happens next. Within these pages, I was introduced to the dwarf king Bruenor Battlehammer, the mighty barbarian Wulfgar and his invincible hammer Aegis-fang, and the self-proclaimed innocent Halfling thief Regis. I was also introduced to one of the greatest fantasy characters in the history of literature, the ranger Drizzt Do’Urden, his magical panther, Guenhwyvar, and his uncanny whirling scimitars. Writer R.A. Salvatore’s visual style of storytelling got me hooked on reading and made me a lifelong fan of his The Legend of Drizzt Series of novels. I have read my original copy of The Crystal Shard so many times over the years that the cover is falling off. How this magnificent book has not been turned into a movie is beyond me. Honorable Mentions: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Dragonlance: Chronicles, Dragonlance: Legends, and The Sleeping Dragon.
Comic Book: Conan the Barbarian – As a colleague of my here at work likes to say, “The fantasy genre was created for Conan the Barbarian.” Created by writer Robert E. Howard, this mighty warrior, cunning thief, and ultimately honored king, would set out across the mythical Hyborian Age and tame it. Over the years many of the most legendary artists like Barry Windsor-Smith and Cary Nord have brought the adventures of Conan to life in the Four Color medium. Frank Frazetta may have defined the character with his extraordinary covers for the paperback series in the sixties and seventies, but it will always be the long, amazing run by John Buscema on the Marvel series that will forever define the mighty barbarian for the Odinson. Honorable Mentions: Warlord, Battle Chasers, Red Sonja, Amethyst, Crystar: Crystal Warrior, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and Forgotten Realms.
Cartoon/Anime: Flight of Dragons – Directed and produced by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass, the same team that brought us The Hobbit and The Last Unicorn animated movies, this epic fantasy tale was a staple of a young Odinson’s VCR for many years. A man from our world is magically transported to a magical land of wizards and fairies to assemble a team of heroes and embark on a harrowing quest to stop an evil wizard from launching a flight of dragons, a catastrophic event that will destroy everything. It is an action packed, humorous, entertaining, and enlightening tale for fantasy fans of All Ages. Honorable Mentions: Sleeping Beauty, The Last Unicorn, Dungeons and Dragons, Dragon’s Lair, Ninja Scroll, Bastard, Scrapped Princess, and the Visionaries.
Video Game: Baldur’s Gate (BioWare) – When it comes to my All-Time favorite fantasy video games, I always find myself drawn back to the realms of Dungeons and Dragons. Baldur’s Gate in particular holds an incredibly special place in my heart. Not only is it an extremely well written, well thought out game with an extremely user-friendly game engine (to this day, one of the best), but it directly ties into the Time of Troubles, an epic storyline that forever changed the landscape of the Forgotten Realms. Thus, the mediums of Role-Playing Games, Novels, Comic Books, and Video Games intersect in a crosspollination rarely seen in pop culture before, or since. Honorable Mentions: Ghosts ‘n Goblins (Capcom for NES), The Baird’s Tale (Interplay for Commodore 64), Pool of Radiance (SSi for Commodore 64), Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn (BioWare), Icewind Dale (Black Isle Studios), The Temple of Elemental Evil (Atari), Dragon Age: Origins (BioWare), and World of WarCraft (Blizzard).
All the elements are here – the sword in the stone, Merlin the Magician, the witch Morgana Le Fay, the Knights of the Round Table, the quest for the Holy Grail, and the betrayal of Lancelot and Guinevere. The 1981 film Excalibur starring Nigel Terry and Nicol Williamson and featuring much younger Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart, and Gabriel Byrne, is, without a doubt, the best interpretation of the Arthurian Legend every put on the Big Screen. And, what else can the Odinson say about the seminal Princess Bride? It is a perfect movie.
This was easily one of the most enjoyable lists I’ve ever put together and one of the hardest. With a genre like fantasy there are so many great, great movies, comics, and books to choose from that the lists could literally go on forever. It was tough on me as All-Time classics like Jason and the Argonauts, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, The Dark Crystal, Legend, ElfQuest, and Krull just miss making the lists, but I had to go with my absolute favorites. Narrowing them down was a Herculean task, but the Odinson was up for the challenge.
What is your favorite Fantasy in pop culture?
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell