Can you have an Industrial/Urban Fantasy World with Nature and other elements?
So one of the most important things in making urban fantasy (or any setting) is to take into account how the elements present would logically affect the setting.
This brings me to my first point: defenders of nature. In most fantasy there is usually always some kind of nature spirits/beings that live in forests and such. The problem comes when it seems to me that these beings are typically so overpowering I am baffled how the setting has FARMING let alone nation-states and social/societal norms we would recognize. How can I deal with this*?
Thanks for anything you offer!
*One thing I can think up relates back to the idea of gods, in how there are equally powerful forces pushing back on the other side, but I am interested in what you have to suggest.
Hey Carbon1, great to hear from you again!
Your question about nature spirits has fascinating implications, and you’re right that if trees, rivers, or other natural features had spirits with supernatural powers, human land-use would be extremely restricted. There are generally two ways to go about this if you want a world that resembles our own.
Nature spirits are rare
- In this scenario, not every tree is a dryad, and not every brook has a nyad. The vast majority are mundane.
- These nature spirits either exist mostly in the spirit world, or their groves and rivers are hidden behind the masquerade. Sure, it might look like humans have completely deforested an area. But if you know just the right path, you can find a hidden grove.
There is anti-nature magic
- This option is very dark, as it means taking ecological destruction and making it part of your supernatural world.
- Either humans or some other spirits have magic of their own that they use against nature spirits. In a world like ours, that means the nature spirits are not doing very well.
Alternatively, you can go the other direction and change how humans live in the world. If all of nature is inhabited by spirits, human settlements might be built around deals with the local dryads. Instead of clearing land for farming, the humans perform services for the spirits, and in exchange are gifted with bountiful harvests. Homes might be built of non-organic material like stone or grown out of the trees in exchange for favors owed. That type of setting would have a lot of novelty.
Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your story!
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Comments on How Can I Portray Nature Spirits in an Industrialized Setting?
Honestly, anti-nature supernatural forces is a terrific idea (from a writing perspective of course).
You could have the equivalent of dryads but instead of old trees they are skyscrapers. The spirits of rivers would be spirits of roads and pipelines, you would see creatures made of tar, factories smoke, and cigarets butts, perhaps some satyrs living in trash dumps.
Some small god could have power over mining, a bigger one would embody motor vehicles and if you really wanna push deep the big boss is the god of capitalism or greed.
An endless battle is being waged ever since humans started reshaping their environnements, the Folks of nature trying to survive while the Folks of industry are using humans to grow more and more powerful every day.
Maybe they have agents amongst humans, manipulating societies to encourage the expansion of cities and the exploitation of nature, the BBEG could be a CEO possessed by a deity ?
Nature Folks are fighting back and in the last years it seems they have managed to slowly gain more humans to their cause, bringing a light of hope for the first time since the dreadful industrial revolution. They are slow to start but hard to stop, like trees.
On second thought forget I said anything, I’m writing this book.
So basically how the spirits work on Werewolf: The Apocalypse where anything important enough have its own spirit and a reflection in the Umbra (latin for shadow). Even corporations have a footprint bigger than any individual and hence count as a “being”.
Oh man, the “Noun: the Verbing series”…
Not the best series as a whole, due to the messed-up metaplot where none of the writers knew what each other was doing. Still the system was usable, but the biggest problem was the extremely poor scaling, aggravated by how no one could agree on whether it was to be gritty low fantasy or anything else.
While this is certainly an interesting story point, I don’t think the idea that any side should be “bad” or “good” is something I am interested in, since industrialization has brought many great benefits to us. I think the idea of a faction of nature spirits working together with “industry spirits” to create better alternatives (hydroponics, habitat reconstruction, etc.) against radical factions on either side would be a better idea.
That would certainly creates interesting dynamics and tons of conflicts while bringing more nuance and complexity to the setting, great idea !
Though I think from the perspective of nature spirits, the helpful side of industry would be a minority of case. After all they were doing perfectly fine for millennia and the system was working without much hiccups, until humans started to modify their surroundings
From the perceptive of humans, things would be much more nuanced and complicated as like you said, many great things were brought by industrialisation, the medical field alone would ensure much sympathy from them.
The problem with leaning too far into either direction is that extremism inevitably leads to poor results for both– ecoterrorism and the continued pollution of the world are a couple examples.
You mention a “system,” so I would explore if the system of nature could work together with the system of industry, and by extension, civilization (and we have many real life examples to draw upon).
PS: I hope you wind up writing the book, BTW>
I would personally think that extremism on either side should turn out to be the real problem.
In addition, you mention a system, so I think that there could be possibilities for the systems of nature and the systems of industry/civilization to work together.
PS: I would love to read that book, and I hope you were inspired by this post.
Juan’s suggestion is really cool. In addition, though, a logical fourth option is to have a lot of magical nature spirits, but their magic is simply weak/seriously limited. They can do a LITTLE with it, but not much. (Mythcreants already has articles on how to limit magic in various ways.)
I personally would rather have them as meaningful entities, otherwise there is very little reason to include them at all. The idea of there being entities on the “other side,” and the possibility of coexistence is more appealing to me.
You could also have nature spirits reside in an alternate reality or a different level of reality. They’d be able to visit our world and they might push humans back from some areas which they consider sacred, but they wouldn’t defend every river or brook or forest. It would probably change the look of our world to a degree (imagine having a protector of the Amazon rainforest), but it wouldn’t limit the humans that much.
Alternately, Juan’s idea is also really cool.
This is interesting. On Juan’s idea, I am against making any side objectively good or bad in this situation, and have responded accordingly (though it is an interesting story point).
I’ve always felt that nature spirits would be neutral, as nature knows no good or evil. Nature just is. Predators hunt because it’s what they do, not because they’re evil or sadistic.
For me, nature spirits would protect a certain area which they consider home, just as an animal would protect its territory. They wouldn’t kill humans because they enjoy it, they simply would kill those who want to change or destroy their home.
As Oren said, nature spirits only really began to become “good” around the enlightenment.
Your view is certainly valid, but on a larger scale I feel as if a theme is that nature spirits have a connection to the whole world.
Actually, I think an interesting idea would be to have nature spirits from many different biomes having conferences and meetings to discuss things.
I mean, thinking on it, different nature spirits could have different viewpoints on different things, influenced by a variety of factors, instead of being ham-fisted allegories.
I personally tend towards a good resolution in any scenario with nature and industry spirits.
You could have some nature spirits adapting to niches in industrial landscapes, like urban foxes (I suspect that’s where the original, non-Mogwai gremlins came from).
There’s a short story by Marie Brennan called “Such as Dreams are Made Of” that’s similar to Juan’s idea. You might also look into how Shinto or other modern spiritual systems are practiced that are based on animistic traditions from pre-industrial times, with the usual caveats about taking inspiration from cultures not your own (I’m assuming you are not a Shinto practitioner).
You could make the industrial creatures some sort of demons as well and have the nature spirits employ monster hunter squads, too. The demons can have the magic that is more powerful than that of the nature spirits.
While I am not on with making any side an objective bad or good guy, I could see some parts of this as a strategy for a faction.
I remember a filk song that mentioned a median fairy that lived on the interstate.
I don’t get why it is always the “natural” spirits the ones that are good. I think that if there are spirits, there should be “invention” spirits too. I mean if there is a Thunder spirit, so should be an Electricity spirit, as they are the same in essence.
I don’t see a problem of an urban fantasy with spirits of Traffic or the very City.
Nature spirits are typically portrayed as good in modern media because environmental collapse is a now an existential threat to our species. If you go back to when that wasn’t the case, nature spirits are often the antagonists.
Exactly. I don’t think the idea of any side being good or bad is the right way (I was referring to tropes in the question).
My setting also has alternate physics accounting for magic, but that’s another topic.
A concept I have created for my setting, based on the Q/A, is in how nature in my setting does have nature spirits, but these spirits tend to congregate in mass numbers only in certain special places. Other places, nature spirits actually adapt to industry, since magic has made it so that industry in my setting is not pollutive and is thus environment-friendly.
Nature spirits also exist, alongside many other spirits, in a world’s Astral Expanse version, where their presence (alongside influences from the Material Dimension) results in environments that reflect the Material Dimension world.
It should be noted that nature spirits and industry spirits (and other types of spirits as well) typically live in harmony with each other in my setting.
Editor’s note: I have removed a few comments because it isn’t acceptable to post a bunch of replies under different names on the same Q&A or article. Intentional or not, it gives the impression that one is trying to create the illusion of consensus by pretending to be different people who all think the same thing.
Is this what is called a cliffhanger? Will we know in the next chapter? The end of the book? Never??
Or is it a twist?
Leaving a twist as a cliffhanger…is there any other way?
Thank you for all the work you do here.
What powerful technologies do I give a powerful industrialized society without guns?
Bio-based weapons and such.