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Songs and Prophecies: Fantasy Flavor


Songs and Prophecies: Fantasy Flavor

Fantasy novels are a continuation of the same story telling tradition as myths and fables.  Most are inspired by the epic ballads of heroes, and due to this link often contain prophecies and songs from that world.  This is due to the original tradition of mythological stories being recited orally, and often sung (hence the term ballad) depending upon the culture.  This carried through in many of the first fantasy epics, like the works of Tolkien (especially the songs) all the way through current blockbuster epics (Wheel of Time for prophecies and songs).  They add significant flavor to a book, and make it fit the genre better, but if done wrong can pull a reader out of the book.

Songs are probably the harder of the two for most authors.  While there may be a few budding songsmiths amongst fantasy writers, many are not particularly musically inclined.  This has the habit of making many songs either just general poems or not feeling songlike in the least.  The easiest way to make it feel more authentic if you do not have song writing abilities yourself is to pattern your song after either the cadence of epic ballads ( like Beowulf, odyssey, etc) or if doing something closer to our time then sung to the tune of other songs you know.

Many traditional songs we know like Yankee Doodle had the lyrics patterned to fit existing songs (in this case a drinking song) and this happened with many hymns and other songs that people know of.  Sometimes your reader might even think it seems familiar, if they know the source material enough.  In the second book of the Allmother’s Fire I needed a rousing but slightly wistful song for the Air Pirates.  I decided to pattern the tune after “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean.”  At that point the song practically wrote itself (lyrically it’s not similar, but the idea for the song I had grafted onto the backbone of the existing tune so well, the whole thing was written in about four or five minutes).

For both songs and prophecy you could get the feel you wanted by using certain types of poetic forms, like iambic pentameter to give it a familiar stylized feel.  Other rhythm and meter schemes work.  If wanting to evoke the feel of homer for your Prophecy, try dactylic hexameter.  Modern English is used to rhyme schemes being emphasized, but it is not the only way to give the effect of a song or prophecy.

With prophecy the content is just as important as the presentation.  If the meaning is too clear and accurate there is no sense of discovery or surprise in the book, since everything could be predicted easily.  The key to good prophecy besides making it “catch” in the head of the reader through meter and rhyme scheme is content fuzzy enough to not make twists obvious, but detailed enough in hindsight it makes sense.

For prophecy use vivid descriptive phrases, but let them have multiple meanings.  This way a reader (and the characters) can draw wrong or obvious conclusions early on, but the truth of their meaning can be obfuscated for later surprise.  You could also make intention obvious and have the whole prophecy be an outright lie, but is more a plot choice then stylistic.  You would still want to use things like rhythm (which syllables are stressed) and meter (how many “feet” {syllable combinations established with rhythm} each line has) to make the prose stand out as something unique.

Poll:

Do you like when fantasy novels have their own songs, or do you skip past them to get to the rest?

1)I like it, it adds flavor.

2)I don’t it bogs it down.

World Info:

Here is an Air Pirate Song!  We would recognize this tune as my Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean:

“My love once met me on an isle

It was a place no one else could see

I stayed with her but a while

But it was long enough for me

 

For I won’t

I won’t

I won’t be tied down

Not Me

Not Me

For I won’t

I won’t be tied down

Not Me

 

My place instead is in the skies now

Sailing and forever free

Never tied to one love by a vow

For I won’t ever bend the knee

 

For I won’t

I won’t

I won’t be tied down

Not Me

Not Me

For I won’t

I won’t be tied down

Not Me”

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