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Fantasy Filk Songs

Updated on March 31, 2010

I am not a big believer in genre divisions. To me there are two kinds of songs: good ones and those that are not so good. But most people swear by genre. They won't listen to it, unless it fits neatly within a certain category. It's a way to categorize music, fiction and even people.

Filk music is an example. What makes it filk? Is it the chord choices? The subject matter? The artists? I don't know. But I do know that even within filk, there are genre divisions. This hub is dedicated to fantasy filk.

Leslie Fish

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The biggest contributor to filk music in general is Leslie Fish. She does everything. She composes, she writes lyrics and she performs. If she's not the one singing it, there's still a very good chance that she wrote it. If she didn't write the lyrics, nine times out of ten, she wrote the music.

In the filking circles, there's a great deal of misattribution going on. For some reason, we tend to think of the song as belonging to the performer. But the perfomer in many cases didn't write it.

The most famous (and in some circles infamous) fantasy filk is "Horsetamer's Daughter." Naturally, the words and music were written by Leslie Fish. The fantasy setting is Darkover, a series written by Marion Zimmer Bradley, but the story told in the song is strictly a Leslie Fish creation. The performer in the video I have embedded is Julia Ecklar.

"Horsetamer's Daughter" is an unusually long filksong, and that is why it requires two YouTube videos to cover it. This is also why, in certain filk circles, some groan at the thought of having to sit through all of it.

There are those who also complain that it is too "ose." Ose is supposed to be "sad" and "Horsetamer's Daughter" is a song with a happy ending, and yet it seems that any ballad with heroic overtones qualifies as ose.

Horsetamer's Daughter is my favorite fantasy filksong. It's one of those things that you either love or hate. There has been many a satirical song written about "Horsetamer's Daughter", the most famous of these starting with the words "There once was a traveling salesman..."

However, only really good songs get satirized in the first place. So before you make up your own mind, or start writing filks mocking it, you should first listen to the original "Horestamer's Daughter" in all its uncut glory!

Horsetamer's Daughter -- Part One

Horsetamer's Daughter, Part Two

Many of the fantasy filk songs that I like, if not written entirely by Leslie Fish, have lyrics penned by Mercedes Lackey and music by Leslie Fish. Most of these songs used to be sung by Julia Ecklar in the position of lead singer. Lately, Heather Alexander has taken over that role. For instance, the first time I heard "Kerowyn's Ride", Julia Ecklar was singing the part of Kerowyn, while Leslie Fish sang the grandmother's part. In the video I have embedded here, Leslie Fish is still the grandmother, but  Heather Alexander is Kerowyn.

"Kerowyn's Ride" is available on Misty Lackey's website in the CD "Magic, Moonlight and Madness", in which all the lyrics are by Lackey and all the music is by Fish.

Kerowyn's Ride sung by Leslie Fish and Heather Alexander

Golden Eyes

"Golden Eyes" is another of my favorites. It was in "The Horsetamer's Daughter" songbook put out by Off Centaur many and many a year ago, in the golden age of filk.

The Captive

I only recently discovered "The Captive" on YouTube. I really like it. My favorite line is the one that goes like this: "`Good my lord,' said the mage, with a low humble bow, though his eyes were not humble at all."

Anyway, I'm not exactly sure what the proper attribution is in the case of "The Captive." I believe Heather Alexander is the singer, and Mercedes Lackey is the lyricist. The song is available on the CD "Freedom, Flight and Fantasy." Misty Lackey's website describes the music for this CD as being composed by Leslie Fish and arranged by Cecilia Eng.

A recording of "Threes" is available from Merecedes Lackey's website on the album "Heralds, Harpers and Havoc." It's a staple fantasy filk from the days of the "Horestamer's Daughter" songbook.

What Makes It Fantasy Filk

What makes a filk song fit into the fantasy category? I'm not sure. But here are some features that many fantasy filk songs share:

  1. Ose
  2. Minor Key
  3. Celtic influence -- Pentatonic scale, certain preferred chord patterns, plain major and minor chords, no key changes, songs consisting of verse and chorus and no bridge.
  4. Marion Zimmer Bradley universe.
  5. Based on a book whose cover labels it fantasy.
  6. Involves swords and sorcery, humans transforming into other animals, and other animals helping humans to battle evil forces.
  7. Narrative Poetry: Many fantasy filks tell a story. They tend to be romantic, heroic literature.
  8. Archaic language, in terms of both vocabulary and syntax.

For me, listening to a fantasy filk song is finding a place where poetry, music and story are equally important, and where the position of the bard is restored to its ancient glory.

(c) 2010 Aya Katz

Mineral Rights by Leslie Fish

A Dirge for Sabis


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    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      7 years ago from The Ozarks

      I have a new video interview with Leslie Fish:

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      8 years ago from The Ozarks

      ForsakenWoods, thanks for your comment. I am glad that new people like you are joining filk and that new sub-types of filk are springing up!

      Of course, I have heard of Hope Eyrie. In fact a video of it is linked in my general filk hub:

      You might also enjoy this hub about Trek filk:

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Aya, I've just recently become obsessed with filk, and you've got the gist of it but are missing a large chunk of filk. Leslie Fish's Hope Eyrie is a famous filk about the space program of all things. Filk and folk get blurred when the subject matter changes from fantasy and science fiction and enters into space programs, computers, and any random subject. Also be aware that harry potter, doctor who, and firefly filkers all have their own name for their filks wizard wrock, trock and firefilk respectively. I'm still finding my way around my newest obsession and I'm sure I'm missing stuff, because its a huge genre that encompasses so many performers and fandoms.

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      9 years ago from The Ozarks

      Butterflywings, seems we have much in common! In a proper bardic circle, people of varying degrees of talent and ability can come together and enjoy the same music. That's why I keep wishing I could establish one where I am. There are many talented people in this area, it's just hard to find a way to get them all together in one room.

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      9 years ago from The Ozarks

      Shalini, I'm so glad you like them! I hope this hub can introduce many new people to filk music, and fantasy filk in particular. I'm also hoping that my favorite filk authors and artists will find a way to break the genre barriers and get the wider audience they deserve.

    • ButterflyWings profile image

      Joilene Rasmussen 

      9 years ago from Ovid

      Aya, I know what you mean, about "rural and isolated" and "singing ability." In a lot of ways, I like rural and isolated, but as far as singing goes, I can carry a tune, but wouldn't dare go solo. :)

      But all lack of talent aside, I keep hearing that if your passion is great enough, people will come on board.

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 

      9 years ago from India

      Hi Aya - I've never heard any of them before - and loved them! It reminded me of Chaucer and some of the old poems. Thanks Aya - like you said, genre divisions can sometimes be constricting but whatever label these are known by, their haunting and beautiful music gets to you.

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      9 years ago from The Ozarks

      ButterflyWings, thanks! There's always hope. My daughter is ten. I think maybe she would be more receptive at a bardic circle, where many are singing. But we live in a rural, isolated area, and I have not been able to establish a circle of filkers. I'm not a very good singer myself, and that could be part of the problem...

    • ButterflyWings profile image

      Joilene Rasmussen 

      9 years ago from Ovid

      Aya, who knows but that maybe your daughter will grow into it? She's young yet, yes?

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      9 years ago from The Ozarks

      ButterflyWings, thanks! I always wanted to share these songs with children, too! Unfortunately, my daughter thinks this type of music is "too beautiful"! Maybe when I have grandchildren they will be more receptive!

    • ButterflyWings profile image

      Joilene Rasmussen 

      9 years ago from Ovid

      I've run into this type of music before and always loved it, I just didn't know what to call it. Now, thanks to you, I have a name for it.

      These are the sort of tale-songs I always pictured passing onto my grand children.

    • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

      Aya Katz 

      9 years ago from The Ozarks

      Springboard, thanks! I'm glad that this hub is reaching new people who have not been exposed to filk before! Makes me feel as if I'm making a difference. And, yes, there's a song and beat for every mood -- not always the same.

    • Springboard profile image


      9 years ago from Wisconsin

      As a matter of fact, I had never heard of filk music before. Always nice to learn something new.

      Regarding genre, I agree with you 100%. Far too limiting. Whether it be music, poetry, writing, it should be about the moment and what that moment feels like. Sometimes its melancholy, and sometimes jovial. Sometimes you want to rock and other times you don't.

      Great and interesting hub.


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