What are the basic elements that make Sci Fi stories different from those of Fantasy? And how are they similar? James Cameron’s Avatar follows the plot of Disney’s Mulan very closely, and the original Star Wars was influenced by the 1958 samurai film The Hidden Tower, set in feudal Japan. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was inspired by the modern day horror of both World Wars, which were propelled by industrial technology. I assert that there are no storylines exclusive to either Sci Fi or Fantasy; rather both genres draw from a common source deep within the human psyche.
Throughout history, the archetypal symbols found in dreams of people from all over the world gave rise to mythology and fairy tales. Carl Jung, in Man and His Symbols, pg. 87, stresses the definition of an archetype as both a symbol or image and the feeling or emotional energy carried by that image. Childlike primal instincts, fantasies, and belief in magic call to our rational waking selves through the language of dream imagery. These symbols have endured in the collective consciousness due to the emotional charge they carry, forcing the dreamer to pay attention to them and seek out their meaning despite not making rational sense.
One example of an archetype common to both Sci Fi and Fantasy content is the Hero. The Hero’s story arc, as detailed in Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, begins as if by accident in ordinary life, revealing another world of mysterious wonder. The Hero crosses the threshold of adventure and is faced with an impossible challenge before emerging victorious and returning to the familiar world. Other aspects common to both Sci Fi and Fantasy stories include the archetypes of Paradise, The Underworld, The Dark Forest and The Labyrinth, with characters such as The Wise Man, The Great Mother, Angels and Demons. These archetypes spring from the genetic blueprint of our original nature, explaining why the myths of people from around the world since time began have so much in common.
An example of a film which succeeds in synthesizing aspects of both Sci Fi and Fantasy is The Empire Strikes Back, the masterpiece of director Irving Kershner. Presenting the futuristic Star Wars adventure like a fairy tale, Kershner evokes a childlike fascination from the audience. His understated camera lens allows us to focus on the characters, and ultimately to see ourselves in them.
Stories of both Sci Fi and Fantasy genres inspire courage in both the young who face the inescapable uncertainty of adult life, and the elderly who face what lies beyond. They lend meaning to an existence riddled with opposites, leading us to become who we are.