Technology in Fantasy


Image via FineArtAmerica

Ava Rapport

Technology is everywhere in modern life, from the newest iPhone to the simple wheel. In fantasy media, the goal is to distract the audience from everyday life through magical beings, abilities, and adventures. However, what happens when these stories encounter the technology of today? The biggest killers of the suspension of disbelief are phones and guns. What’s the point of using a magic spell against someone when a gun would be far more powerful? Why travel through complex and beautiful (or not so beautiful if they’re dystopian) worlds to deliver a message or meet someone when you could just call them? Fantasy writers have come up with ways to avoid these problems to keep their stories cohesive and believable. 

One common way to avoid this issue is to simply remove technology from the world. Some stories may take place in a time before complex technology or in a different world or dimension to avoid having to write modern technology out of the story. In some stories, there is a reason why the characters can’t use immersion-breaking technology. Perhaps all phones explode if the protagonist comes near them, or there are magical abilities that are stronger than guns. This is the most common, and it’s an effective way to remove modern technology from a story. The biggest downside is that it may become repetitive between stories if many are using this method. It may also restrict the freedom of the writer if they decide they want to use technology creatively after they have already written it out entirely. If it isn’t properly explained why characters can’t use modern technology, it kills the suspension of disbelief because the reader wonders why the villain doesn’t just shoot the protagonist, for example. A writer has to explain why technology isn’t involved in the story if it is removed from the world.

While there are ways to have your old-fashioned sword fights in a fantasy setting, another type of fantasy has emerged from this idea: urban fantasy. Urban fantasy is when the story takes place in a modern setting, typically a city, with the magic and mythical creatures that define a story as being a fantasy. Urban fantasy stories incorporate technology and magic into the story. Urban fantasy is different from science fiction because in science fiction, extraordinary events come from advancements in science and technology, not magic, and they usually take place in the future or in a different timeline where humans have made extreme scientific advancements that we haven’t yet in real life. Urban fantasy typically uses modern technology that we have today, and the special abilities are still magical. Magic may be hidden and only known and used by certain groups of people, or it can be blatant and everywhere. There are urban fantasy stories of all kinds. This can result in truly fascinating and special stories that can explore concepts that most fantasies can’t.

The main difference between fantasy and urban fantasy is how technology is treated and integrated into the story. While urban fantasy may be fresh and exciting, fantastical new worlds will always have a place on bookstore shelves. Broaden your horizons and try reading both kinds of stories. There is plenty of escapism and exciting adventures to be found in every kind of magical fiction book.