What elements to analyze

There are a number of key elements or features in fantasy, which are central to the genre. Once you are able to recognize these, analyzing fantasy is pretty straightforward. 

Setting: Worlds and portals

A work of fantasy is either set entirely in a fantasy world or in a mixture of fantasy and reality. Thus, worlds and how to move between them are characteristic of the genre.

Analytically speaking, our world is called the primary world. This one is characterized by realism and familiarity. In contrast, the fantasy world is called the secondary world. Some fantasy stories only feature the latter, such as Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) where the characters never leave the magical land of Middle-earth. Others feature both, such as J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter (1997-2007), where Harry and his friends are able to move between the “muggle” world and the wizarding world. 

The moving between worlds typically happens through a portal. This could be practically anything. When Harry first goes to the wizarding world, it happens via a magical train. In C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), four siblings enter the magical kingdom of Narnia through a wardrobe. 

The worlds and portals may be symbolic

When analyzing worlds and portals, pay attention to potential symbolism. The fantasy stories that feature child or teenage protagonists are typically about growing up. In these, moving through a portal to a strange place can be seen as a symb...

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