December 31, 2012

The Place of Giant Animals in Fantasy

While originally a strong trope of the fantasy genre, (and often science fiction too), the giant animal seems to have been misplaced by the modern fantasy community. So why is this; are they boring, over-used, or simply the abandonment of a society that has moved on? I should note for the gentle reader, that I recognize the trope is still in use by a number of writers and RPGers, myself included, but it goes without saying, that the beasts have become eschewed for strange amalgams of colour, and parts. Made-up species, one and all.

So why is the giant animal an under-utilized asset of the genre? All too often those parties concerned call them unimaginative. After all, what the hell is up with all these giant rats, bats, and gekkos milling about the old cave/labyrinth/dungeon from Crete? Fear, friends. Take if you will the wolf spider, a charging land predator, and not such an arachnid as would use a web. When I was little we would make play of chasing the things, amazed at their speed for something so small. Now imagine, the same creature about the size of a man, or possibly a large dog. And further imagine the scaled anatomy of this thing: its alien visage, the mandibles, expressionless, body-language-lacking thing, with its set of multifaceted eyes. It wouldn't be any such matter of escaping such a beast, no, but a matter of how long before it overcomes you, and takes you. Some fear even the smallest, most harmless of arachnids, never mind gargants.

Furthermore to the topic of fear; we can see that most traditional giant animals are those most commonly feared. The previously mentioned spiders, reptiles of many sorts, rats, and any myriad of invertebrates all stood tallest. And maybe it was the lack of appreciation for how truly terrifying and dangerous these things become when they shadow men, and can be looked at closely without a microscope.

One of my favourite pictures ever of giant animals, was a giant-sized, otherwise ordinary, monitor lizard casually snatching up an army of medieval-era soldiers. That's scary; the things that prey on us. Not being at the top of our presumed food-chain is a concept modern man is quick to deny.

Can it be said the very trope is unimaginative? Possibly, but let's not forget the giant beasts that once roamed the earth in the vast stretch of time known as 'pre-history'. The many species of dinosaur and reptile from millions or years passed, aren't called 'thunder lizards' for nothing. Hell, even a good number of the insects then were ludicrously massive by modern standards. Imagine dragonflies large enough to give the impression a helicopter was flying nearby. And this is all before we get to the more recent stuff. Such as the dire wolf, Megaloceros, Megalodon, titanoboa, giant squid, and etc. Is it so truly an artistic crime if Mother Nature herself dabbled in megafauna? Thankfully there hasn't been a quite proper match to the nefarious ROUS (Rodent Of Unusual Size) yet, unless one counts the giant beaver. (snerk)

Am I yammering to the wind, or has it seemed to the reading audience that there is indeed water in my moat? While it is a generalization made on my part, I find the common trend in current Fantasy, to be a bit too much 'fantastic', in all facets of its makeup to remain receptive for the simplistic, traditional concepts of the fairy tale.

Also, I'll dedicate this last bit to wish the fine folke a productive and pleasant new year, and to many more.