By Olive Dausinas
Stories that are ever popular seem to be the ones where a hero from our everyday modern world ends up in a fantasy setting. Our hero, with his knowledge of modern technology and ingenuity, leads him to combine the best of both aspects of the modern world and the fantastical. This genre is so popular in some circles, it’s hard not to think about when it comes to fantasy. But what if the story was slightly shifted? What if the story was not of the modern world hero sent to a fantasy land to save it? What if it was the complete opposite?
Matt Kindt’s Folklords is the answer to that question. In a very typical fantasy world, filled with elves, gnomes, orcs, and everything one expects, lives a young man named Ansel. At age eighteen, the newly minted adults of the village in which he lives are sent out on a quest of their own in order to find who they are. Unlike the others, Ansel’s quest is much different. He does not seek out treasure or a lost friend, rather he seeks out the Folklords, those who contain forbidden knowledge of the universe. For Ansel? He has vivid dreams of smartphones, cards, airplanes, lighters, and the everyday life we take for granted. The ruling government, the Librarians, deem such a quest punishable by death, but Ansel leaves for it anyway. But the horrors of what lies outside the village? Those may just get in the way of him and his new companion, a warrior woman who simply dubs herself Ugly, as they search out the Folklords. But the power that comes along with that knowledge will destroy the reality he knows.
The world in which the story takes place covets knowledge. However, who gets to know that knowledge is decided on not by the people, but by the ruling class. The themes of forbidden knowledge and government censorship run rampant through every part of these characters’ lives. Even the mere thought of seeking out the Folklords is punishable by death. The eventual first Folklord encountered essentially doubles down on the idea that no one crosses these lines. Not for any real reason, other than it makes the lives of the Librarians and their cruel experimentation easier. And most of the people? They simply accept this. They accept the missing knowledge because it’s easier to not focus on whatever lies they are being fed or to simply detest the mere idea that there’s something else in the world. After all, mocking Ansel for his suits and medieval versions of modern inventions is easier than accepting he’s correct.
Other stories that are similar to Kindt’s work here include Once & Future by Kieron Gillen and Diesel by Tyson Hesse. The former story revolves around another mix of modern culture facing the pushback of myth, this time inspired by that of the Arthurian canon. Diesel is the story of a young woman in a world where the clouds are the only bright compared to the wasteland below, and her journey to forge a destiny for herself outside of her family.
This story goes beyond a simple play on the normal genre tropes. Rather, Folklords is a near fantastical meta narrative on the nearly omniscient knowledge and omnipotent power of the author of a story’s world. Ansel is very much the human rebelling against a joyless and arrogant god who believes that his superior knowledge of reality puts him above all else. Knowledge is power, and the god believes he has all of it and that these lowly creations lack the ability to outsmart him. Perhaps that is why the story is so engaging as it plays with the idea of authorial intent. The god sits above the rest of the world, high and mighty as he strings together the lore of his world. But in doing so, he creates people who are capable of thinking for themselves and going out on adventures he does not approve of. It hearkens back to the old ages in which fan fiction was often a target of the original property’s authors, who took offense to the idea of someone enjoying their world so much that they would threaten to sue over the matter.
If one enjoys stories with meta aspects, it’s hard to not recommend Folklords. Though I would not recommend it to people who aren’t fans of meta-fiction, as that is the main core of the story and its mysteries. In a time where people may have a hard time dealing with a separation of a work of fiction they genuinely enjoy versus a dislike of the original creator, Folklord’s story of ignoring the arrogance of an originator is fresh.
Ansel’s search for the truth of his world is a refreshing take on the modern-fantasy crossover genre. The combination of said genre with a meta-narrative on authorial intent and arrogance creates an incredible world where the lines between what’s real and what’s fake are thin. To the point where, perhaps, there’s a girl on the other side. One who dreams of a fantastical world with magic and trolls and orcs, and seeks out that world just like Ansel seeks out the modern one.