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The Most Used Symbols in Fantasy Novels

Updated on June 19, 2013

Fantasy books certainly has something that makes them irresistible to their fans. They are interesting, intense, full of adventures and usually happen in magical world that we all enjoy visiting sometimes. But what does make them so special? Is that the magic, existence of other worlds and dimensions, people with some special abilities, precious talismans or something else?

In order to give answer to this question, let's take a look at symbols that usually take their place in this type of books.

One ring
One ring | Source
Source

Creatures

Intelligent beings

This is the term that fiction writers don't use just to refer to the regular humans. So, we can read about hobbits, elves, dwarfs, nazguls, orcs, giants or wizards, just in Tolkien's books. Other writers had created creatures such as Aes Sedai or people with daimons.

Hobbits

In Tolkien's books, such as 'The Hobbit', 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Silimarillion', we can distinguish four basic kind of creatures. There are hobbits, know by the low growth. There isn't any specific magic associated with them by they do have ability to evanish when someone big and clumsy encounters. Tolkien explains that this is the reason why anyone has never seen them. They are plump and often prone to weight gain. They like wearing clothes in bright colors, especially green and yellow. They don't wear shoes because they have feet adapted for fast and noiselessly walk.

The hobbits tend to a comfortable and quiet life and they are trying to avoid any kind of inconvenience and hostility, but in Tolkien's books they often find themselves in situations not suitable for them. They are well know by their modesty. They were once very numerous, by they are endangered by modernization, because they don't like complicated machines but they are very good in using them. They are also known for their natured appearance. They are most similar to us, human, and they often take our languages and customs. They are not belligerent at all, and they didn't participate in any wars since distant past.

In contrast to other race, Tolkien does not write about Hobbits family trees, because their relation to their family is so complicated. They like to live in a huge communities and to create underground palaces with a large number of halls, and they show their kinship in very long and branched family trees that no one except them can understand.

Humans

In Tolkien's books, humans are very similar to us. He writes about humans who were great and successful in past with a great respect, but when he talks about human in present time, he represent them as vain, bitter and jealous.

Humans are divided into large number of different nation, and Tolkien gives us a detailed explanations of their characteristics, long royal genealogies and languages that they used. In past, human used to be close with elves, but this relationship has changed.

In distant past, there was an event of the great importance for the whole world. It was of course the war against the Dark Lord - Sauron. Sauron was fighting both with military and magic, but during the final battle, Isildur, one of the greatest human in history, cut of Dark Lord's finger and took his Ring of power. Unfortunately, Isildur was just a human, and he couldn't make himself to destroy the ring. Although Isildurs family was destined to protect the world from the evil, power of the Ring and it's evil, led to his dead. During the battle with Sauron, famous sword Narsil was broken. Legend says that when the sword is forged again, Isildur's successor will become the king.

Elves

A lot of connoisseur consider Tolkien's work epic of Elvish people. At the beginning, they have prevailed over the other races and lived in accordance with them, as the wisest race. They were famous as great sailors and they liked to travel a lot. Those were the golden times for the elvish people, and that had happened a lot before the time 'The Lord of the Rings' is about. At this point, their best days are over, and they live with continuous melancholy. They stay with other races during 'The Lord of the Rings' only because they feel obligation to fight the dark forces, but they constantly hope that they will soon go to the 'Immortal Kingdom'.

Their homes are filled with sounds of beautiful songs, and although these songs sounds happy for someone, they are just a reminder to the great past of their people. The number of elves are constantly decreasing, and this makes them very sad and bitter.

One of the greatest thing that J. R. R. Tolkien have ever done is creating of elves language, that he has wholly developed. About their appearance and look, Tolkien writes that it is very beautiful and dignity. Their faces are timeless, it's not either young or old.

Dwarfs

Like any other story, 'The Lord of the Rings' present this race as a great miners. In Tolkien's books, dwarfs are dreaming Moria, the lost land where they have created the buildings of extraordinary beauty. Unfortunately, they were digging too far, and they found the evil which should never be freed, so they can't go back to Moria. Dwarfs are of course lower than humans, but they are very strong and tough. They are also surprisingly agile. Every one of them has a specific beard. They usually live far away from others, and spend their time in hard work. They are famous to hold grudges, but they also remember the good deeds too. They like stones, jewels and other materials that need to be processed by artisan.

By nature, they don't like war and battles, but they are coming into conflict with others because they poses a lot of valuable objects. There were some points in history when their castles were destroyed, so they had to live in human's towns. During this periods they started using some of their words, but no one ever learned dworf language. They even has two names - one, on human language, that they use everyday, and other, secret one, that they never reveal.

Every writer has his point of view how some creature should act, and what their mission should be. But interesting thing about that is that they are never so different from us. It's one of the best secrets in writing a good fiction. Creating illusion that you or me can be that special hero.

Objects

Almost every hero has some special object that can change the history of the world.

In Lord Of The Rings, the most important object is of course the ring it self. This is a symbol that refers to power, relationship between good and evil, vice, object of assembling, indestructibility, beauty, fading, desirability, dependency...

But the biggest symbol in all the books from this genre is usually a sword. Sword battle is important, because fighters depend on their skills. Today, with modern weapons we don't have that possibility, but with swords, everything is about the person that holds it. Using the sword demands a lot of work, precision, skill, restraint and sangfroid.

In Lord of Rings, we have Narsil. Sword that was broken during the battle with Dark Lord, and fixed when the ring was found.

In Wheel Of Time, there is Callandor. Dark powers had made this sword in order to create a powerful weapon. But the chosen one should be able to use it to fight the dark side. In this book, sword is not used as much for fighting, as much it is a symbol of a power, identity, wisdom and courage.

Even in Harry Potter books, there is Godric Gryffindor's sword that comes only to the one that needs it and deserves it.

The Subtle Knife from His Dark Materials, is also known as the god destroyer. It can cut trough anything, including fifth dimension. It can be understood as symbol of growing up. because when main characters realize that this knife can be dangerous, they are willing to destroy it even if their life would be better with it.

Ned Stark, the main character of Game of Thrones, has his sword, which is the symbol of his family and it's name is Ice.

Wolfhound's sword is famous for having it's own will and doesn't let anyone to use it for dishonest purposes.

Numbers

A lot of fairy tales are famous for some numbers, such as seven or three. It's interesting that it's always about prime numbers. People probably give power to those numbers because you can't divide them. It just makes them so absolute. Even an ancient Greeks respected them.

One. Unique number. It comes on top of the pyramid as with One Ring.

Three. Tolkien divided elves into three clans, and this race is most respectful one in his books. Also, The Lord of The Ring has three books, probably because this number has positive connotation.

In His Dark Materials, we also have three books, where first book is about female principle, second about male principle, and in the third one, writer combine this elements into unbreakable unity.

Friendship is often connected with this number. We have it in Wheel of Time, we have it in Harry Potter, and even Terry Pratchet use this number with his witches.

Nine. This number is strongly connected with number three, and usually refer to number of persons that are involved in something, such in fellowship of the ring and in the beginning of Wheel of Time.

Five. It's very important number, as a symbol of decimal system. It's especially used in Game of Thrones. But in this book, writer likes to play with number five and six. That's the reason that Ned Stark has five children with his wife and one bastard, and this symbol is very important since the beginning of the first book where they found five wolfs, and later one more.

Thirteen. Of course, this number means bad luck. In this type of books it's connected with dark magic and dangerous ceremonies. It's widely used in Wheel of Time books.

Orphan

However, you can't be a fiction hero if you have a normal family situation. It just doesn't work.

So, we have Harry Potter, who has to live with his horrible relatives.

Rand Al'Tor from Wheel of Time, has a peaceful life on his father's farm, but few hundreds of pages later, he found out a different side of family history.

Garion from David Edding's Belgariad, lives with his aunt, but he can't say precisely how are they related. Of course, he doesn't know the whole story about his family, so he need some time to realise who were his parents.

Woolfhound's entirely clan had been murdered when he was a child. That makes him the only person in the world who can revenge to the people who made him orphan.

Daenerys Targaryen Stormborn. Mother of the dragons. She is also the last person from her family, and she is willing to fight everyone that hurt her forebears, and become the queen. Her battle is hard and lonely, but she is ready to do whatever it takes to succeed.


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    • diplorging profile imageAUTHOR

      diplorging 

      5 years ago from Serbia

      Thanks! The Wheel of Time is also on of my favorite series!

    • Eric Mikols profile image

      Eric Mikols 

      5 years ago from New England

      Interesting. I learned a lot about Hobbits right there. Great, in depth article about one of my favorite genres. I loved the Tolkien focus but any mention of The Wheel of Time makes me happy!

    • diplorging profile imageAUTHOR

      diplorging 

      6 years ago from Serbia

      Thank you very much, I know that my English is not as good as I wish, and I like when someone say what I did wrong

    • ndaffinee profile image

      ndaffinee 

      6 years ago from Jumbled Brain, USA

      Interesting hub. You made some really good points here. As a suggestion, hopefully not stepping on any toes, proofread your hub before posting. There were a few errors here in there that confused me a bit. Other than that though, I enjoyed the read!

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