I recently read that J.R.R Tolkien intended for the Lord of the Rings universe to be like a 'forgotten history' of Earth. For example, areas like The Shire are supposedly set in ancient Europe.
I think that's strange and very interesting, to think that the whole time the story is playing out, the setting is actually on the planet Earth and not in some fantasy world like I once thought. It feels like a different perspective of things for me.
It's all fiction, but it's still very neat.
Recently, I was downloading and playing old demos of games from the 90s like Grim Fandango. One fantasy game I played was set in a fantasy setting with fictional races, with locations such as medieval fairs and castles, but supposedly later on (as I saw in a video) you go to an ancient human ruin - which is a decaying concrete river dam with modern objects like beds and computers. The game does establish in the intro that there were once humans, with the fact that they vanished due to mysterious reasons. But still, once you go into a location like that, an abandoned and decrepit dam, it really does create a strange new atmosphere. All that fantasy feeling just vanishes and now you're looking at something entirely new. It's uncanny.
One can become established in a fantasy world. It's full of wonderful things and all this rich content to explore; things just present themselves as fantastic and engaging. They can feel like there's this new universe to learn about, untouched by nonfiction. But when the story of that fantasy suddenly establishes that the this 'fantasy world' is actually the remnant or precursor to a very real and not-so-fantastic Earth - it's like a skeleton is found buried within the gut of the fairy tale. In that moment, all those fantastic elements are skewed into a new, strange light.
Putting it in that light, that the fantasy story is before or after Earth, seems to portray some very dark elements. For example, in the game I previously mentioned involving fictional races and placing humans in the past, it implied that the humans vanished due to some kind of plague, and then stated that the humans may have either fled to the depths of the ocean, or into space. There's also the possibility that they all simply died off. Despite all the wonderful and cheerful fantasy elements that the game may present to you while you play it, you can't help but wonder about what happened to former civilization; everything turns into a post-apocalyptic feeling instead of a fantasy feeling at that moment. The brilliance of the world suddenly gains a much darker history.
I personally think this form of a setting has interesting effects on fictional fantasy stories. I feel it really does make the story darker than it appears to be. It can also bring up some very bizarre and exciting story elements. For instance, during and after the time I played the demo of that fantasy game, I continued to wonder about what would happen if a modern human suddenly returned to Earth? What fascinating scenario would that introduce to the medieval denizens of that world?
If similar elements were incorporated into a story, what would happen if they were introduced to the audience later on as a surprise, and not in the beginning? A similar circumstance occurs in the novel The City of Ember. Upon first reading it, the reader may be drawn into the dark grungy world that is the City of Ember. It presents a very surreal version of a world without any stars, sun, or natural light. The only light is from the electric light bulbs that illuminate the city.
Upon first reading this, I was drawn into the story, I wanted to know more about this dark world and why it was like so. Throughout the story, the lights of the city are failing, so the protagonists need to find a way to save the city. They find escape plans and eventually leave. Where do they turn up when they leave? The surface. They discover that they have lived in a massive underground cave, placed there by their ancestors to shelter them from a previous apocalypse. Unfortunately, the movie adaptation of the book quickly dispells the mysterious location of the City of Ember, and even announces in the movie trailer that they're underground. This completely disregards the element of mystery that I loved.
The point still stands though. Learning that their story was set in the remnants of a previous Earth created a new light for everything.
This was originally supposed to be a short PM to someone, but it has grown into a long blog post. What do you think about this subject?