Monday, December 26, 2022

Toys and Children in Lore-building and Worldbuilding

Toys and children's games can be a fun and interesting piece of your worldbuilding and lore-building puzzle, allowing people to feel a connection to fun and sentimental moments within the societies you have constructed.

Take the pewter knight on display at the Muesum of London, for example. This is one of the earliest examples of a mass-produced toy, at the time it came out it would have been relatively rare and a signal that the world was changing to allow such mass production, and that wealth was growing to the point where multiple parents could buy such toys for their children. As with today's concern about video games, there may very well have been concerns about children receiving such gifts and talk of wasteful spending. Certainly, there were concerns about the inordinate amount of time children spent reading in the early days of chapbooks and penny dreadfuls. 

The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
Medieval toy knight from about 1300

More than this, however, how a children in your world plays with toys, and what toys are available can help show bits of your world's history or current political climate. 

In the Medieval most of the knights for children to play with were on horseback, despite the fact that making these horses required more metal and more work to create. Obviously, peasant children at the end of the Medieval and into the Early Modern dreamed of being knights, rather than foot soldiers or archers. This makes sense, but only because most of us know enough about history to know that knights were the cool heroes of stories. 

Imagine a world in which archers were the most popular toys, as might have been the case in early Japan, when samurai used bows more frequently than swords. Or a world where wizards, griffin riders, warrior clerics, are greater than knghts.
If there are a lot of 5e style druids in your world, horses might only be used for logistics, as it would be far too easy for a druid to get horses to throw their riders and cause chaos in the ranks of those who they are supposed to be helping. In such a world horse rider would be the boring job in the military and children might dream of being foot soldiers. The point is, the toys children play with, while a background element could help you include interesting bits of lore in your world that get people to think. 

A simple scene of a mother buying something for a child, or child pleading for them to buy something can be used as a way of letting the characters know what is important in a village. 

Market stalls being on the street can provide the player's many opportunities to overhear conversations and see things that can contribute to their understanding of the world. 

Knight Puppets for fighting around the end of 12th century

Just as interesting for lore-building are children's rhymes. According to one theory for example, the rhyme "London Bridges Falling Down" comes from a song about a Viking raid which goes;

London Bridge is broken down. —
Gold is won, and bright renown.
Shields resounding,
War-horns sounding,
Hild is shouting in the din!
Arrows singing,
Mail-coats ringing —
Odin makes our Olaf win!

While this as the origin of the other song is debatable, both rhymes are interesting and can potentially point to interesting history and so can make for fun background elements.

You can see a few more links to Medieval toys below. 

You can also see a 14th century example of a ceramic knight at 

A fancier version of you knights, likely owned by the children of the king Maximilian I in 1500 can be seen here

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Halfling Cultural Dimensions for Worldbuilders

Halflings take pleasure in simple things that most everyone else recognizes as good but which most don’t think is enough to fill their lives; such as their gardens, a calm evening in their parlor, good food, and simply doing their job. More than any other genus halflings love their homes, families, and their place in the world. This means that few of them ever leave the place where they live, yet some are struck by a desire to wander and explore the world. These halflings especially can come to enjoy treasures collected and won through luck and skill. Such treasures might include seeds for plants, a folk songs or recipes from distant lands, as much as any treasure that could be sold. 

Halflings feel close bonds to the other members of their community and will rarely seek to make waves which might disrupt the lives of others. Their willingness to simply accept things as they are, their lack of the obsession with creating, inventing, permanence or success that other genus have leads others within their communities to frequently feel a sense of repressive boredom. 

The halflings are joyful, however, and enjoy things that can bring what they see as authentic joy, such as family and entertainments, however, and are frequently especially skilled at stories, plays, and songs. As such they are hospitable and cordial, desiring to maintain stability and avoid confrontations which could lead to a shattering of the peace. They will, in most cases, simply endure unpleasantness until it goes away, but if the thing that makes them uncomfortable doesn’t seem likely to pass they can react with cunning and violence as needed. 

Cultural Dimensions

Halflings have their own unique cultural dimensions which reflect the deities that created them, their traditions, and most especially their natural luck. 

You can learn more about the Cross-Cultural theory of cultural dimensions and how to use it in Worldbuilding here.

In general, however, the members of a culture are surveyed with their numbers for each dimension being averaged, telling us where on the dimension the culture is. For example, a halfling on culture which scores a 70 on the Ambling Dimension would be very ambling, while one which scored are 30 would be contented.

The purpose of these dimensions is to help make it easy for you to quickly think of new cultures allowing you to give different personalities to various halfling villages. 

I have created one of these sets of dimensions for Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, and Seelie Goblins on my Patreon. 

Ambling – hearth

All halflings take pleasure in simple things, good food, restful squishy chairs, pleasant company, and a fun book being some of their many delights. They rarely ever seek wealth or fame, as ambition for its own sake isn’t something they want and it would be hard for them to imagine simply being happy playing in mounds of gold like a dragon when they could instead lay in the heather with a picnic of delicious cheeses and wines. Of course, their desires do require some effort, and the type of effort they enjoy going to is a major part of their culture. 

Ambling Halflings enjoy the pleasures of the natural world and things that come from the outdoors. They might spend a lot of time breeding the perfect apple trees and delight in eating the apples straight from the tree or dried in the sun, reserving things like pies for rare occasions. They enjoy ambling through the wood searching for the perfect blackberries to mix with simple farmers cheeses and honey. 

Hearth Halflings enjoy the pleasures of home. They enjoy being inside, and so many of their projects and foods reflect this. Their projects generally tend to focus on their homes and the gardens immediatly near them. They will spend a lot of time with friends, playing games and the like.  

Comfotable – Avidness

Halflings love their homes and simple beauties, but the amount of emphasis they put on each of these is an important reflection of their culture. 

Comfortable Halflings enjoy working and relaxing in their homes or the fields and forest near them. They like nothing more than to simply putter around the house or the nearby wilderness, nibbling on some fruit or cakes and seeing that everything is just so. When they make a quilt, they do their best to make certain it is snuggly and comfy, because that is what they want out of it, after all, something they can curl up in without worry. 

Avid halflings love to discover and create beautiful things. They are more likely to spend time exploring, looking for the prettiest spot and prettiest moment they can, rather than simply relaxing by a stream. What’s more it’s not enough to simply have a snuggly quilt, because they enjoy the process of making it as much or even more than using it, and so will find ways to drag out the time it takes to get all the little details right so that when it’s done they and others can forever see the beauty in it, and they can remember the process of exploring the quilt as they created it. 

Cordial – Enthusiastic 

Halflings are friendly and kindly hosts. Within their own communities they don’t usually just say hello, they engage those they see in conversation, clasp hands, and likely hug. 

Cordial halflings tend to enjoy pleasant conversations with very little substance. Indeed, happiness to them comes from avoiding anything that might cause discomfort. When they meet a stranger or friend they’ll ask them about foods they like, particularly good meals they had, terrible rainstorms they might have been caught in, or beautiful things they’ve seen. 

Enthusiastic halflings believe in actually getting to the heart of who a person is, that’s how friendships are formed. They might ask questions like; When was the last time you cried and what were you crying about? Or What do you do for fun? Why do you enjoy it? Many who aren’t aware of these halflings culture will feel ambushed by their probing questions and the way they will often share intimate details about their life unprompted. 

I absolutely need feedback and your thoughts on this so that it can be the best resource possible for worldbuilders. 

Cultural Dimensions for Worldbuilders

One of the most used and studied Cultural Psychological theory, Greete Hofstede's cultural dimensions are a series of six aspects of culture which span across human nearly all human societies.  These dimensions act as an easy way to understand aspects of a culture and have been some of the most researched and best attested to theories in Cross-Cultural Psychology.

This is advantageous for worldbuilders because it provides them with new ways to think about the cultures they are building. Playing with these dimensions, along with histories, and the elements of culture can provide you with innumerable different cultures to populate your worlds. 

The cultural dimension are based on Numerical Scale of 1 to over a 100. For example, if a culture has an 80 on the individualism vs collectivism scale, the members of it will tend to be individualist in their thinking, while a culture that scores a 20 will be more collectavist, while those that score 40-60 would tend to be more in the middle of this cultural dimension.

As a cross-cultural psychologist I would ask that people avoid ethnic bias. It is a mistake to presume that any cultural dimension is better than another, the different dimensions have allowed those who display them to survive in different situations. This is why research has shown that people who grew rice and people who grew wheat have different cultures based on the requirements for growing these crops. That is Fiszbein, Jung, and Vollrath found in a comprehensive study of the US that farming higher labor-intensive crops was highly associated with collectivism, while low labor-intensive crops was associated individualism. So cultures that grow rice tend to be more collectivist because rice requires more labor and the management of complex waterworks which benefit a community; “Traditional rice farmers dealt with the labor demands by forming reciprocal labor exchanges. A legacy of rice production therefore yields collectivism, and a depressed drive to innovate... the close cooperation within a village suggests that benefits from innovation are rapidly adopted by the entire village. Thus, the benefits of innovation are largely external to the innovator, reducing the incentive to exert effort in this direction.” (Zhu, Ang, and Fredriksson) 

Wheat, on the other had tends to be a more individual activity and so encouraged individualist cultures. This is tendency is increased by the raising of cattle as a secondary source of food, for people would have to set out on their own or in small groups “to secure water and grass for the herd in distant locations. This increased their interaction with strangers and encouraged trade which fostered the exchange of ideas. Such exposure to novel ideas and the opportunity to trade new innovative products in larger markets should have heightened the focus on innovation effort. The lower labor input requirements also imply that wheat farmers are able to attend to their own plots with less help from other villagers than is the case for rice farmers.”

The Six Dimensions

Power distance index (PDI): This is the extent to which people accept an unequal distribution of power. That is, how much they accept control from their parents, a ruler, nobility, bosses, or others in positions of power. Workers in high power distant societies often want their managers to act as benevolent dictators, rather than as friends. Further, a lower number in this dimension indicates that people are far more likely to question authority. 

Individualism vs. collectivism (IDV): For many this is one of the most difficult dimensions to understand and a lot of mistaken ideas have sprung up about it so I caution you to be careful trying to apply this to the real world. 

Collectivist cultures have strong ties and loyalties to their families and ingroups, whom they seek to help, even to the detriment of those outside this group. 

Collectivist cultures are more likely put their family's and group's desires above their own desires, and as a result they would be more likely to take on the role their parents or other members of their group wished them too, rather than trying to express their own identity. 

Individualism, with its emphasis on 'self-actualization' may come in part due to more frequent encounters with strangers and members of an outgroup and less reliance on a large ingroup. This might explain a study by A study by Deborah Cai & Edward Fink which found that individualist cultures are more likely to attempt to avoid conflicts all together, while collectivist cultures are more likely to try to compromise. On the other hand, both are equally as likely to try domination as the way to get what they want when conflict arises.

In Short:

Collectivists will tend to put more emphasis on the rights of families and communities over those of individuals. They tend towards rules which promote unity and will seek to work and cooperate with others and tend to be self-sacrificing. 

Individualists see individual rights and the ability to choose the role one wants in society as important. They value their independence.  

Whether you mean to or not the themes of this cultural dimension are likely to creep into your story one way or another. Case and point, individualism can be thought of as the Disney Animation Values in which Ariel, Bell, Merida, etc. seek to follow their own dream, rather than accepting the role society, their parents, or both have placed on them. That is, these stories feature an individualist character stuck in a more collectivist society which they feel is repressing them. 

Of Disney's "Mulan" the researchers from Jining Medical University in China State that; 

The American version of Mulan adds some American individualistic features. When the emperor heard the news of the Xiongnu attack, he ordered the general to post a recruitment notice throughout the city, and said: "Small soldiers can also make great achievements." The emperor's words show the importance of personal ability and strength. In the battle with Chanyu, Mulan saved the emperor, at this time Mulan's personal strength surpassed the others, which proved that the small soldiers mentioned by the emperor could also make great achievements. The layout of this plot highlights the individualism of the United States. American individualism believes that competition is more exciting than cooperation, and individual glory transcends collective glory. During the battle with Chanyu, Mulan did not follow the orders of the general, adhered to her own point of view and finally won the war. American individualism emphasizes the consciousness of "oneself", the individual will transcend the collective will, and believes that the individual has the right to fight for the protection of his private ownership and to adhere to his own views and beliefs. This cultural feature focuses on individual will and achievements and respects individual decision-making. (Lei Wang, Bing Han, and Guofei Xu)

This isn't bad, per say, the best films and books reflect the culture which made them. Still, it can be useful when trying to depict different cultures in your story to realize that they would value different things. 

Uncertainty avoidance (UAI): This is societies willingness to accept uncertainty. Obviously, countries with a high uncertainty avoidance will tend to have strict codes of behavior and guidelines that dictate how one should think. They believe that there is one truth which dictates everything. Those with a low degree of uncertainty avoidance will accept differing ideas and are more accustomed to ambiguity.

Masculinity vs. femininity (MAS): Masculine societies in this case prefer heroism, assertiveness, and believe that one should be rewarded for their success. In counter to this are cultures which seek cooperation, modesty, and believe that those who have struggled should be cared for. 

Here again we see a clear connection between the environment people needed to survive in and the cultural traits they exhibited. In this case cultures in more temperate climates tended to be more masculine, while those in "In cooler climates with prolonged winter, meeting basic needs for food, safety, and security is much more demanding, which promotes intense parental care for the family." (Hofstede) Similarly, men in cultures in extremely hot climates such as that of the Aka pygmies and the Batek of Malaysia will provide a lot of fatherly care for their children. 

These differences might be accounted for by the fact that more extreme temperatures require parents to spend more time and resources caring for their children, as Hofstede proposes. On the other hand, war tends to be easier in moderate climates, thus the threat of raids might encourage masculine cultures. If true this dimension could be thought of as environmental vs physical dangers. 

It is important to realize that while many tend to think of the care giving and cooperative nature of femininity as akin to Collectivism, cultures like Sweden can be very Individualist and Feminine, while China is Collectivist and Masculine. 

Long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation (LTO): Cultures with a long-term view attempt to adapt and solve problems pragmatically. Those who have short-term orientation value traditions and steadfastness in the face of adversity. 

Indulgence vs. restraint (IND): Indulgent cultures allow people the freedom to gratify their natural desires, to enjoy life and have fun. While cultures that show restraint have strict social norms. 

Dimensions within a Fantasy World

Exactly how these dimensions work within the cultures of your fantasy world is obviously up to you and in many cases, it would be impossible to know exactly how a magical environment filled with vampires, demons, dragons, giants, etc. would impact people's culture. Would such creatures force people to stay closer to home, thus making them more nurturing, or would it force the parents to be 'tougher'? Obviously, only you can answer that question based on the nature of the threat and of course the story you are telling but asking the question will hopefully give you ideas for your world. 

In addition to human cultural dimensions, I have worked to create seperate elven, halfling, dwarf, goblin, and gnomish dimensions. Obviously, you are free to change, ignore, or use these as you want, it just could be useful to think of how their cultures might work. 

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Fairy Tales and Fantasy for Artists - Fear and the Sublime

Index       Romantic Desires: The Philosophy of Fairy 

"THE FIRST and the simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind, is Curiosity. By curiosity, I mean whatever desire we have for, or whatever pleasure we take in, novelty. We see children perpetually running from place to place, to hunt out something new: they catch with great eagerness, and with very little choice, at whatever comes before them; their attention is engaged by everything, because everything has, in that stage of life, the charm of novelty to recommend it." (Burke, 1757)

Burke’s treatise on the Sublime had a huge influence on artists and writers. The Enlightenment and Industrialism dominated the ‘learned’ thought of the time, and then he came along and argued that darkness, obscurity, things that causes us awe and terror and which are beyond our understanding are perhaps more valuable than logic. Being frightened and made uncomfortable by a piece of or literature “was regarded as a positive experience” as such “Sublime art could not be achieved by slavishly following rules, but rather was an experience that existed above and beyond rules in the realm of artistic imagination.” (Christine Riding and Nigel Llewellyn) The point was to break with what gave people comfort. Loose and wild brush work, wild imagination, and terrifying subject matter were all aspects of the sublime. 

It is rather ironic that a large part of what fueled the rise in supernatural literature during second half of the 18th century was the rise in consumerism and wealth which allowed a burgeoning middle class to purchase stories to read. And while the enlightenment figures bemoaned consumerism and the reading of books which would lead people to have fantastic ideas, the reality is that the middle and lower classes of Britain and Europe in general didn’t give up on their belief in magic for a long time. Thus allowing them into scholarly conversations was bound to lead to discussions of ghosts and fairies that the figures of the Enlightenment derided. 

Into this debate came the artist Henry Fuseli’s painting of nightmares tormenting a woman in a dramatic pose. Fuseli’s paintings are works of counter Enlightenment and some of the earliest rejections of the Industrial Revolution. Many artists of this time began to believe that rationality harmful and would hurt humanity. Facts would, in their mind, destroy morality and certainly social norms changed dramatically following the Enlightenment. 

Fuseli flipped the art world on its head by depicting “immoral pagan motifs because he fully realized the fantastical potential of Northern European legends. Therefore, he has been labeled a Romantic Classicist, straddling both of the major styles at the end of the eighteenth century. Similar to other Romantic artists, Fuseli was intrigued by the idea of the sublime, that which is not aesthetically beautiful, yet still appeals to the viewer’s inner psyche and invokes strong emotions. He was likely familiar with Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Inquiry into Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, which was published in 1757, not long before Fuseli started his artistic career. He had a great intellectual curiosity and was exposed to many different philosophers and writers while traveling across Italy and Germany, inspiring his eccentricities. He represents both a true scholarly genius, as evidenced by the literary sources of his oeuvre, as well as an innovative artist, illustrating enigmatic and passionate works. His art mainly focused on the Gothic Sublime - rather than classical Greco-Roman themes - deeply rooted in fear and sensationalism.” (Caroline Giepert Professor Spieth)

Fear and sensationalism would dominate fantasy literature for a long time, and arguably still do, as most of the movies made with fantastical elements are likely horrors, with ghosts, demons, and the like. Certainly pulp magazines and the earlier penny dreadfuls, in which many of the genres of fantasy were established, sold copies based not only on sensationalist art but their sensationist covers. 

This painting is important for another reason, because it helped bring about the idea that a painting could have nothing to do with a myth, history, or real person or place. Rather this painting came from the artists own mind, something that hadn’t been done in British paintings for quite some time before.


Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Alphonse Mucha and the Art of Cultural Identity

Previous                  Index                 Next 

Alphonse Mucha and the Art of Cultural Identity

by Ty Hulse

The 19th and early 20th Century was defined by the idea of nationalism, or more specifically the search for a common identity with other people's who spoke the same language or had similar histories. Romantacism as an art exalted passion and emotions above enlightenment values of logic and the social good. The romantic artists loved fairies and magic, primarily as it was associated with folklore. The Brothers Grimm were inspired to collect German tales and lore based on this idea, in hopes of unifying the many German nations into a single whole. They were frequently in conflict with kings and nobles

Certainly, Alphonse Mucha, famous in Paris for helping create the Art Nouveau would join a movement of artists and idealists seeking to bring independence to his Slavic Czech homeland. He believed that art inspired by the fantasies, myths, and folklore of the Slavic people could help inspire a revolution. He was inspired to this end while in Paris, as he said;


“It was midnight, and there I was all alone in my studio… I saw my work adorning the salons of the highest society or flattering people of the great world with smiling and ennobled portraits. I saw the books full of legendary scenes, floral garlands and drawings glorifying the beauty and tenderness of women. This was what my time, my precious time, was being spent on, when my nation was left to quench its thirst on ditch water. And in my spirit I saw myself sinfully misappropriating what belonged to my people. It was midnight and, as I stood there looking at all these things, I swore a solemn promise that the remainder of my life would be filled exclusively with work for the nation.”


After this he left Paris, returning to his Czech homeland in order to create art that would inspire his people, including a series of fantastical paintings inspired by Pan-Slavic writings. Pan Slavism was a cultural movement that stated in the middle of the 19th century. While his art was revolutionary and a call to overthrow the Austrian government, Mucha could discuss them in terms of fairytales to avoid the ire of the authorities.

The public was lacking something. It was obvious that it needed to breathe fresh air and find peace and harmony. The existing harmonies were exhausted, empty, taken over from old Renaissance motives, and people were glad to quench their thirst for beauty with a new draught. It seems that it was the refreshing new Slav element they were looking for. Posters were a good way of educating a whole population. They would stop on their way to work and derive from them spiritual pleasure. The streets became open-air art exhibitions.


The goal of these movements was largely positive, to escape the repression of dictators. In order to achieve these ends people created a falsified history and mythology. For example, they sought to portray the Slavs as peace loving, as having been over taken by the violent warrior Germanic people. This, of course, ignores the fact that the Slavs were only in Western and Central Europe because they had fought to displace the people who were already there. In order to create their new cultural identities, many people invented many of the fantasy elements and even the myths we still cling to today. The idea of a preexisting earth mother being one such myth.


Obviously the people who were being oppressed at the time deserved the right to escape repression, what’s interesting for us is that the fantasies people created were able to trump reality, because fantasy and lore are powerful forces.


Mucha described his posters in the following terms:

I must choose a technique which doesn’t take too long. . . .This is why I think oil painting is too technical and not suitable for expressing ideas. In oils the technique is always visible, and this I don’t want . . . if it is broadly painted it’s just shallow virtuosity, unworthy of serious subjects. And if it is too meticulous and naturalistic, the harsh colours will kill the idea and the whole thing looks terribly heavy handed and forced. My work must be like sudden shouts without any bravado technique, honestly felt and honestly expressed, with no showing off, no acrobatics of the brush. I think I will do it like the tragedy of the German Theatre, only better and more seriously worked out, with the main stress on drawing, while the colour, harmonious and natural, should be subordinate. Now I’m looking for a method and I think I have found it. Contemporary oil technique has nothing in common with the Slav spirit. . . it is French, or Dutch, perhaps even German or Italian, but not Slavonic. We must start from a completely different angle . . . not painting because … we get satisfaction from effects of light and colour, but because . . . painting is a more direct way of conveying feelings. And these feelings must remain the principal object while technique and colour must be subordinate. This is my new approach . . . and perhaps I’ll be able to do something really good, not for the art critics but for the improvement of our Slav souls.”


Epic Significance: Placing Alphonse Mucha's Czech Art in the Context of Pan-Slavism and Czech Nationalism Erin M. Dusza (2012)


“Mucha’s advertising posters reflected a new mythology of modernity: the desire for universal harmony and happiness.”


The Image of Homeland in the Works by Alphonse Mucha “Madonna of the Lilies”, the Poster for “The Lottery of the Union of Southwest Moravia” and the Poster for “The Slav Epic Exhibition” Yuliya S. Zamaraeva*, Kseniya V. Reznikova and Natalya N. Seredkina 2020


Art of Djer-Kiss: Pleasure, frivolity, and aesthetics

 Previous                  Index                 Next

Art of Djer-Kiss: Pleasure, frivolity, and aesthetics

by Ty Hulse

The 1920s was still haunted by the ghost of “The Great War” which had ushered in modern mechanized warfare with the birth of tanks, chemical attacks, bomb carrying planes, and the disease filled trenches that nearly killed Tolkien. This time, after the war, came to be known as the Roaring 20s, and a frivolous generation. In truth, however, the people of that era were in fact running, trying to escape the horror and, in many cases, the shell shocked post-traumatic stress of a war that had left many of the old values dead beside those they loved. 

In 1917, near the end of the war which must have seemed to go on forever a pair of girls photographed what they claimed were fairies. Their photographs caused an emotional and psychological stir in society that lingers to this day.

It was a period when the majority of the population had lost a close relative in the first world war, and understandably there was a consequent surge of interest in manifestations of other worlds and the after life such as spiritualism, theosophy and the fairies. Edward Gardner, who discovered the fairy photographs, was a theosophist, and Conan Doyle, who had lost his son in the war, was a committed spiritualist. It is perhaps this sense of desolation following the losses of the war, and the desperate search for signs of an afterlife (Postmodern Fairies by Helen Nicholson)

It is into this world the Djer-Kiss released a series of ads featuring whimsical and beautiful paintings of fairies, one of which promised a return to “pre-war prices” below a celebration of white, dancing beauties. The fairies, like many such paintings are surrounded by a circle of dark wilderness, yet within their circle is a purity and brightness. Yet it isn’t a full circle, there is a gap opening up in it, not one that faces directly towards us, but one that is moving towards us, where the fairies have parted in preparation to invite us, the viewers, in. 

Featuring fairies in this way wasn’t an accident, fairies had often been a symbol of hope. In a early 19th Century German memorate a young woman, struggling with her hard Industrial Era job asks her friend;  “Wouldn’t you like to marry one of the fairies?” as they hear the sounds of the zwerg reveling in the hill beneath their feet. For many, fairyland must have seemed a type of heaven, which is likely why graves in Ancient Greece sometimes read that the children’s spirit would now be able to play forever with the nymphs. 

We see this sort of desperate hope for purity, for a sort of heaven and peace in these paintings. They beg us not to return to the war that was, to move forward towards a better world.

Another ad features fairies swinging joyfully on vines. In some ways this is reminiscent of the paintings of the Rococo period. Like the 1920s the aristocracy of the early 1700s would ponder what happiness is and like the 20s they seem to have ultimately come to the conclusion that what makes someone happy is what feels good. That what is good is to enjoy life. Have romantic trysts in which you playfully let one man look up your skirt, while being pushed on a swing by another. Dress frilly and bright. Travel, eat, drink, and enjoy beautiful things. 

Because of the decadent and sexualized nature of the Rococo it is often depicted with a naughty, sexual twist. Much as the fairies had often been thought of. There was, after all, a history of men and women dreaming of beautiful fairy lovers. Further, fairy decadence and celebration, like the Rococo had often been depicted with a mischievous edge to it, such as in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Fairy Tales and Fantasy for Artists - p9

 Previous                  Index                 Next 

Christmas Sweaters. Love and Cuteness. The Voice of the Voiceless. 

by Ty Hulse


When many people wish to express love or affection, they turn to something cute such as teddy bears given as gifts on Valentine’s Day. Another example are Christmas sweaters historically knitted by an aunt or Grandmother. The first Christmas sweaters weren’t ironic or ugly, they were artistic expressions by people who had spent much of their life with a limited ability to express themselves. Handmade cute sweaters reflect a desire to care for others. They are knitted by loving hands, often as a present. In this they reflect both the desire to love and to be loved and on some deep level we realize this, this is why people wear them when the maker comes to visit, because they are demonstrating this affection or at least comforting the creator with a forced display of affection. 

Rather than trying to understand the aesthetic or emotions behind these works of art, however, society derided the creators, regulating them to kitsch to later be used as the butt of jokes. It is common for people to deride and belittle cute art without ever trying to fully understand its function in people’s life. This is the danger of creating cute art, that it will be not only misunderstood but wrongfully derided. 

It is rather amusing to read art Critics who support an industry of artists selling art for thousands or even millions of dollars, deriding the happiness that a teenager or elderly person can get from giving five dollars for something to place on their shelf or hang on their wall. Kisch, in essence, means that many people with little money are able to take joy in it – while ‘high art’ means something that only a single wealthy person owns and few well ever enjoy. I imagine the wealthy art collectors take joy in their million dollar painting, while kicked back in a leather chair while sipping on cognac that costs more than an average person’s yearly wages. I don’t have a problem with this, joy is joy, after all. Still, why would we ever seek to take that opportunity away from the teen sitting on their bed, with a cookie they shouldn’t be eating there, staring silently at the affordable art around their room as they contemplate their life and future? Or the elderly person, rested in a mechanical chair, pondering the world that they’ve been a part of while absently staring at the knickknacks they’ve chosen to represent themselves.


Fairy Tales and Fantasy for Artists - p16

 Previous                  Index                 Next 

Psychology and Media

 by Ty Hulse

Above all else, art is about emotions, for the emotions in tales can provide real psychological benefit. Indeed, it can be argued that people seek out entertainment primarily to fulfill psychological needs, as well as to feel emotional pleasure. (Raney Et Al.) Studies have repeatedly found that people use entertainment as a way of regulating and intervening in their emotional states (Eden, Johnson, and Hartmann, 2018) and that doing so can have not only psychological and social benefits, but also benefits to productivity as well. Reinecke and Trepte (2008) found that “those suffering from low arousal [boredom] performed worse on cognitive tasks” than those who alleviated this boredom by playing videogames for a few minutes. Reinecke et al.’s later studies (2011) found that video games were generally very effective at satisfying our needs for mastery and control, where as other activities were better suited to calming down. 

 Just a few other findings include the fact that;

 “viewing cute images improved performance on tasks that required carefulness” (Nittono Et Al). Chen, Hu, and Plucker found that positive moods can help with certain types of creativity, while Miller and Benoit found that horror could help with others. Christensen and Scrivner point out that horror has been used by some as a way to deal with anxiety and that some individuals with PTSD have used horror to aid in their emotional recovery. 

 It should be obvious then that telling and hearing stories can have huge emotional and psychological benefits, in ways that sometimes don’t make obvious sense and have little or nothing to do with the morals, themes, text or subtext of a story. A fairytale or fantasy story may not have a subtextual or overt moral that we can find, rather its purpose could be entirely emotional.” (A Worldbuilder’s Guide to Understanding Fairies and Fairytales)

 The value of emotions in art and stories is why psychologists can use fantasy tales in therapy. According to Nielson (2007);

 the emotional release, possible due to a clear narrative, is mentally healthy but also connects to better physical health, as a result. The narrative is critical to releasing these emotions in an effective manner where one’s role in their trauma can be understood and therefore promote personal growth in oneself

Many of the stories mentioned for helping people in therapy include fairytales or fantasy stories. For example, Doctor Wolz states that therapists have used Lord of the Rings to help patients because “One of the themes that attracted my attention in the Lord of the Rings is that of personal evolution. Each one of the members of The Fellowship is simultaneously a participant in two quests: one which revolves around the destruction of the ring, and another which revolves around the confrontation of demons/fears that obstruct that character’s personal growth.”

Again Nielson points out that: 

The superhero concept is naturally very therapeutic in its storytelling and characters, due to their usual archetypical standards of simplicity in good vs. evil conflicts. This is partially why children have a strong reaction to superheroes in stories, therefore suggesting that they will be effective in cinema therapy.

Stories in which characters overcome obstacles after struggle and have emotional arcs can all be extremely beneficial and such struggles and arcs are often built into the world. Lawrence and Jewett (2002) have found that there is psychological value in fantasy worlds that aren’t ambiguous, that have clear cut evil empires, so that the good characters can easily defeat the problems of the world. This isn’t to say that there isn’t value in darker and more ambiguous worlds, but it is also worth pointing out that there has been found to be important psychological value in worlds where heroes can have “pure motivations, a redemptive task and extraordinary powers” (Lawrence and Jewett, 2002). 

Given the psychological value of stories one shouldn’t mistake engaging with stories for emotional reasons as a quest for blind happiness. Strizhakova and Kremar (2007) did a study of the types of movies people watched when feeling different emotions and found that;

In general, those who felt angry and bored chose fewer dramas; those who felt calm chose more comedies, and those who felt energetic chose more action movies but avoided crime dramas and comedies. Those who felt nervous, however, chose more–not fewer–horror movies. In addition, those who felt sad chose more–not fewer–dramas and crime dramas but avoided dramatic comedies. Rather, sad people seemed to gravitate to serious films.

In other words, people likely choose different stories at different times based on their mood and psychological needs. Thus each type of film and game offers something different to help people in different moods reach a more optimal state. After all, there are many ways which a story can fulfill someone’s psychological needs, but in general they have been broken into three categories: Hedonic, Eudaimonic and Transcendent. Not every one of these gratifications is necessary to making a show entertaining (and most stories likely don’t gratify people in most of the ways possible), but people who have a healthy mix of emotions from each category will tend to have a higher sense of well-being. (Raney Et al.) 


Hedonic Motivations involve seeking out pleasure and happiness. These emotions are usually found in fun and exciting stories. 


Eudaimonic motivations include seeking out a deeper meaning—feeling a sense of elevation and connectedness with the self and others. 

Eudaimonic entertainment commonly involves stories that address difficult aspects of the human condition, such as life struggles, death and suffering, and portrayals of human virtue such as kindness, helpfulness, love, and connection… Admittedly, eudaimonic films for example rarely generate the top box office revenues. However, they are more likely than hedonic fare to receive critical acclaim. (Raney et al.)


Transcendent gratifications come from entertainment that makes people gain outward focused insights as opposed to eudaimonic entertainments which are mostly inward focused. In other words, transcendent entertainment “takes the audience member beyond personal benefits to a greater understanding of their interconnectedness with others or with a higher nature. Increased appreciation for and understanding of shared humanity and values of moral beauty, hope, courage, and humility.” (Raney Et al.)



Every mammal plays games, or put another way, every mammal seeks to learn through fun and pleasure. This is what hedonic well-being is, pleasure, happiness, fun, carefreeness, relaxation, and enjoyment, and along with this a lack of emotional pain and stress. 

Entertainment, which allows people to work through and roleplay emotions in their mind can act as the ultimate sandbox for people to mentally explore experiences and feelings. People seek out entertainment for three types of escape; sociological – that is stresses related to work, social psychological – stresses related to negative social interactions with others and the world, and individual – that is to help improve individual mood and psychology. This use of entertainment to escape and increase well-being is of particular note to fantasy artists, given the value of digital games and fantasy for escaping. “Several studies have found that escapism and being immersed into a fantasy world to be relevant motivations of players. Especially complex games like online role-playing games are often used for escapism-related motivations like immersion/fantasy.” Games and fantasy “provide an optimal environment for pleasurable escape from the restrictions and difficulties of the real world.” )Video Games and Well-being Press Start 2019)


This might explain why the most successful MMORPG is ‘World of Warcraft’, an artistically somewhat cartoonish game with moments of tongue in cheek lore, because the whimsy of the art is able to contribute to the hedonic pleasure people feel when playing this game. In any case, researchers have found that sadness is often best relieved by playing video games. 


Of course, pleasure isn’t the only purpose of entertainment, after all horror, vast landscapes, and tragedies are all important works of art that people frequently seek out. Studies have found that films that cause people to feel moved “elicited more reflective thoughts, which in turn predicted individuals’ overall positive experience of the film” (Bartsch, Kalch, and Oliver).





Transcendent gratifications come from a feeling of spirituality induced by entertainment and art such as is found in the original ‘Star Wars’ films, ‘Avatar, The Last Airbender’, ‘Lord of the Rings’, and more. Transcendent art and media causes people to care and think about others and increases their feelings of a shared humanity, values, spirituality, moral beauty, courage, hope, humility, and feelings of awe and wonder, as well as feelings of connectedness with nature and higher powers.  Transcendence can have a positive impact on someone’s sense of well-being, while promoting authentic happiness. At the same time transcendence also causes people to care more about others, increasing their generosity and kindness. 

Psychologists have identified a number of forms of transcendence. Elevation, the feeling we get when we encounter moral beauty. Admiration that comes from witnessing an achievement or skill that inspires and energizes the viewer. Gratitude, that comes from witnessing not only good deeds, but also by witnessing a character who is willing to show gratitude. Thus, an audience is often more likely to feel positive emotions when a protagonist is helped and thankful rather than when they can accomplish everything on their own. Viewing gratitude is important because it increases altruism but also helps people feel greater levels of life satisfaction. 

Perhaps the most important aspect of transcendence for artists is awe. That is being made to feel small and insignificant because of amazement, wonder, the beauty of nature, or fear. Such feelings of awe and wonder can reduce aggressive behavior. Images of nature can help to induce awe, which perhaps helps to explain why scenes of nature were shown to improve psychological well being, increasing "feelings of affection, friendliness, playfulness, and elation."


The stress reducing effects of nature art can help improve patient outcomes in hospitals, among other things. “For example, adult patients in a procedure room reported better pain control when exposed to a nature scene. Murals (as distraction) resulted in a significant decrease in reported pain intensity, pain quality, and anxiety by burn patients. Breast cancer patients reported reduced anxiety, fatigue, and distress during chemotherapy when exposed to VR intervention displaying underwater scenes.”


During quite moments in a game people can feel a similar sense of transcendence as a result of the art and the emotions related to the games scene, as well as its music. 


The power of transcendence induced by beauty may very well be the biggest reason that the film “Avatar” had the biggest box office of all time. The use of such beauty to move people is obviously important to artists, just as the use of spiritualism to help people feel transcendence is important to fantasy and related stories. “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, “Star Wars”, “Lord of the Rings”, and many more have all used some form of spirituality to help make us feel a sense of transcendence. 


Such transcendence leads to feelings of appreciation which Oliver and Bartsch (2011) found “is most evident for meaningful portrayals that focus on human virtue and that inspire audiences to contemplate questions concerning life’s purpose.” Similarly, Janicke and Rambasubramanian found that “while personally chosen favorite movies can be enjoyable from pleasurable and hedonic aspects, these films also gain appreciation from rich spiritual content”. The belief in the spirituality being depicted isn’t necessarily important to a person’s feelings of transcendence; after all, it is likely that very few people believed in ‘the force’ exactly as it is depicted in ‘Star Wars’ yet the emotions elicited by it, as well as by moral and hopeful behavior with Star Wars films, helped people enjoy the films more. 


Eudemonic Well-Being

Eudaimonic entertainment creates emotions of appreciation, rather than pleasure, such entertainment addresses struggles, death, suffering, and sorrow. More than this, however, Eudaimonic entertainment shows us human virtues such as kindness, love, connection, helpfulness. These are the gratifications that lead more to appreciation of the 'artistic’ merit of a piece of art than enjoyment of it. Such potentially negative emotions are most effective when mixed with positive feelings that lead to feelings of bittersweetness and poignancy. 


The psychologist “Ryff distinguished between six different contours of well being: mastery (successfully mastering the challenges of life), autonomy (experiencing self-actualization and inner freedom), personal growth (developing and expanding as a person), self-acceptance (having a positive attitude toward oneself), positive interpersonal relationships (being able to love and build up intimacy), and life purpose (finding a goal and meaning in life).”


People will often turn to entertainment that makes them feel sad, especially when such sorrow provokes deeper thoughts on the meanings and deeper purposes of life. Stories such as the final moments of “Avengers End Game” when Iron Man sacrifices himself and the funeral which follows in the movie leave us feeling both sad and strangely warm. Such experiences in entertainment help us feel more connected to and caring towards others, as well as making us feel more cared for. In a strange way these sad moments can help impart a sense of control on us, helping us feel more free. 


We don’t enjoy these sad moments exactly, rather, we appreciate them. Such appreciation of stories comes from a perception of deeper meanings and of course feelings of being inspired. The stories that help us to feel this appreciation more often tend to show complex moralities and imperfect characters whose own values and morals can be very different from our own. Thus, the reason people can so strongly appreciate and even enjoy antihero narratives. The morally ambiguous antihero or even villain who acts as the protagonist in a show can help audiences experience things they otherwise wouldn’t and can allow them to explore deep and meaningful philosophical questions. 


People don’t necessarily identify with the ambiguous morals on display, nor do they come to an agreement with them. Rather, people frequently disengage from morals that are so far from their own. Instead people will tend to engage with the positive aspects of these characters; even if these are their intelligence, their willingness to get things done, etc., rather than moral aspects of their character. 


Meaningful entertainment can help motivate people to become better, even increasing their levels of spirituality and hope. Tragic films have even been show to lead to a reduction of anxiety and self-efficacy for as much as four weeks after.