Fantasy fascination, an intersection of Culture and Imagination - Gregory Wunderlin

26 Oct 2023

From Gilgamesh to King Arthur, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the course of human history is filled with an array of fantastic stories, those that champion the very depths of our imaginations, giving form to ideas that live in the wiles and whims of our dreams. While storytelling takes many forms, few are so persistent in their grandiosity as what we qualify as fantasy. These stories have taken shape since ancient eras when we first tried to explain natural phenomena as mythology–great deities embattled in divine conflicts, or simple daily chores such as Apollo’s trek in his chariot, sun in tow–and have coalesced into a genre of any and every kind of tale.

Tolkien nailed it with Middle Earth. Drawing inspiration from myriad sources–mythological and real alike–that world came alive with a unique take on Western cultures, interweaving magic and the certainty of the fantastical that we lack in our reality. It’s in this that we find our imaginations thriving: what could be, given a few changes here and there. Since then we’ve seen dozens of worlds in popular culture, maybe hundreds less-so in the public eye, and thousands yet online or unpublished.

And each possesses its own spin. 

In our modern world, we’re seeing more realms beyond that Westernized heritage, fewer knights (though who doesn’t like a good joust?) and more stories that tell the tales of that unfathomable imagination applied to the world at large. With grand Middle Eastern epics contained in titles such as The City of Brass or Eastern stories spun via The Jade City, there’s a wealth of the fantastic that takes the guise of whoever pens the prose. That is not to say that the classics are not rich on their own. The prevalence of Western identities lends itself to the genre with a sort of nonchalance; those old, stony castles and foolhardy adventurers a mainstay to must brands of fantasy.

When given the chance, any culture can thrive in a world of dreams. No wonder then we find such rabid fans and folk obsessed with their continuity of choice. Any Warhammer 40,000 fan will gladly yak for days on end about their preferred space marine chapter, and I’ve yet to see a Wheel of Time fanatic not attempt to explain all fourteen books in one sitting. That’s the charm! How can we not adore these worlds? These places of self reflection and furious musings, where we see ourselves as what could be, over and over again, but always in a new, glorious light.

Let’s stop for a moment here. Who am I? One of those very same obsessed fantasy addicts, I’ve lived in movies, TV, games, and books for decades now, always ready to immerse myself in a new world. By trade, I’m a TTRPG designer and fantasy author, a career forged in the consumption of non-stop media of imagination. I’ve created half a dozen worlds and now, get to share some of those with fellow obsessed readers, hopefully in a vein of that same appreciation.

With The Soul of Chaos, my first published novel, that intersection of culture and imagination runs wild, with a world that consists of dozens of unique peoples all contained with a theme of “what if?”, magical history that embraces a theory of what could be in another reality of mysticism. We see cultures that meld some: Frankish and Nordic as one, a version of Rome more Arabic than Italian, and others that perhaps see too little time in fantasy–Native Americans and South-East Asian, all intermixed in a world primarily concerned with its own origins. 

The Soul of Chaos is the first published novel of Gregory Wunderlin

In this, I get to create a world alive with rich, intricate people, those that draw inspiration from the real world and take those cultures beyond what may be possible; whether they evolved under a wholly new set of histories, or what they could be, based on the strange physics of an entirely alien dimension.

I suppose then, that fascination with fantasy stems from the ability to create something unique, something wholly your own, to add your voice to a pattern of echoes that extends back to our first stories, those oral traditions that helped to shape the imaginations of worlds thousands of years into the future. In this we get to experience that which is rarely so freely given: events and frivolities as we prefer them. Escapism, maybe, but an escape all our own, one unable to be taken away from our curious obsessions. 

Backcover copy of The Soul of Chaos

Interested by what you have read? You can order the Soul of Chaos on Amazon / Barnes & Noble / directly from the author.

About the author

Gregory Wunderlin

Gregory is an author who quietly spends his life fawning over swords and science. He also works as a TTRPG designer, primarily designing 3rd party content for games such as Dungeons and Dragons while lamenting his decision to not pursue a design degree so he doesn't have to pay all this money for artwork.

If you hadn't noticed, he writes books (primarily about swords and science), with The Soul of Chaos his first novel to be published. He hopes you enjoy reading his silly words and that you can find joy in shared nerdery.