Permutations of the Soul

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“Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”

— Jedi Master Yoda, from The Empire Strikes Back

 

Souls permeate fantasy. You find them everywhere. In books like the Vlad Taltos series; in movies like Crimson Peak; in television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer; in video games like Jade Empire; in anime like Soul Eater; and manga like Fullmetal Alchemist. Even if souls are not the focus of the story, it is almost always assumed that souls exist. In some universes, all living things have souls, while in others only sentient races have them. In a few, only humanity is granted this unique ability to transcend oblivion.

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False Dichotomies

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Greetings to everyone from the end of National Novel Writing Month!  Wow, it’s really hard to believe that a month has gone by and, for once, I actually have an almost complete rough draft of a novel.  It still needs work and some scenes, but I think I’ll be able to progress to the editing stage this December and January.  And I’m actually looking forward to it!  My creativity has come back, I’m eager to work, and I’ve been writing over 2,000 words a day more often than not.  Which, like, never happens.  So, I’m really pleased with my progress and hope to have a finished product to show for my effort sooner rather than later.  (Then I’ll go back to Ravens and Roses, I promise.)

Now, on to a topic that has been percolating in the back of my mind for some time:  false dichotomies.

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Religion in Fantasy

At some point during the world-building process, writers run into the issue of faith.  What do your characters believe in?  What is their religion, if they have one?  What religions are present in the world you’ve created and how do they affect that world?  Fantasy is usually not a godless place; in fact, it’s rift with religious ideas.

Fantasy books traditionally have polytheistic leanings because… well, it’s easiest.  The pantheon of gods and goddesses is often very active in the world, and special priests or priestesses known as “clerics” or holy warriors called “paladins” can call directly on their patron god/goddess for help in battle or healing.  It’s often indistinguishable from magic… but the source is divine.  Krynn from Dragonlance and Faerûn from The Forgotten Realms are two massive fantasy worlds with hundreds of books that have very active and localized pantheons.  In these worlds, there is no question about the existence of gods and goddesses because the effects of their power can be very clearly seen.  The afterlife of heaven and hell or somewhere in between is very, very real.

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