With the new Star Wars movie hitting big, people unfamiliar with fantasy and science fiction may feel out of their depth. For you normal folks, I offer a short introduction – a non-nerd primer so to speak – of accessible examples from fantasy and science fiction in four different media.
Movie: Star Wars
Recently my daughter Meredith resigned herself to being a nerd, reasoning since she lived in a house with devout fantasy and science fiction enthusiasts, there was no hope for her normalcy. Yet she soon gave reason to doubt her assertion. It was during that same conversation either Griffin or I mentioned a Star Wars walker.
“What’s that?” asked Meredith.
Griffin’s brow furrowed. I said, “A walker? In Star Wars. You know, Episode 5, The Empire Strikes Back?”
“On the ice planet? Hoth.”
Meredith’s face opened in astonishment. “You know the names of the planets?”
Griffin and I looked knowingly at each other, and I answered for us. “Uh… yeah.”
Griffin says at that juncture, “Meredith, you are not a nerd.”
If you’ve never seen any movies in the Star Wars saga, you can still enjoy The Force Awakens. My sister Jill did, and at the end said she liked the werewolf.
I had to think a second. “You mean Chewbacca, the Wookie?”
Her foible aside, she loved the movie. But if you immerse yourself a bit further than Jill, you’ll easily pick up the nuances and references a true nerd relishes.
Start by watching the original trilogy. To cut down your prep time even further, watch the original movie from 1977. This is the Star Wars in the popular press, known as A New Hope by fans. It’s episode four. You might think, “But you said it was the original.”
It is. We won’t go into that. Suffice to say the new one, Episode 7: The Force Awakens, is the first Star Wars movie to have its release order match its episode number. (To further confuse, the original trilogy is episodes four through 6.)
Look at A New Hope not as a science fantasy – which it actually is – but as a fairy tale – which it is also. Then when you take in The Force Awakens, you’ll grasp the new one as a retelling of the original.
Ah, but it’s a good retelling. Plus, you’ll see what a walker is.
And you already know Chewbacca is not a werewolf.
Book: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
A person could start with the classic fantasy novels of J.R.R. Tolkien, but this is a bit much to bite off when you’re new to the realm of fantasy and science fiction.
Begin with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, an easily-read novel by C.S. Lewis and enter the world of Narnia. You’ll think within the first few chapters that it’s a children’s book. By the end you’ll realize the rich symbolism of the story is wasted on children.
Or maybe not. The simplest symbols are the ones that reach the deepest into the psyche whether young or old.
Lewis created relatable characters. At times you’ll connect with brave Lucy and later to bitter Edmund. I like Edmund, so did Aslan. You’ll meet him, too. There’s the protective brother Peter and the cautious Susan. Mr. Tumnus, a faun, is a favorite of all fans, and you’ll have no trouble understanding why. I hope you do not totally identify with the villain of the piece: The White Witch. Though, she is fun.
You’ll find that just as in any work of fiction, interesting things happening to interesting characters is the key to an interested reader. The genres of fantasy and science fiction are no exceptions. Rather they are the vanguards.
TV Series: Chuck
Some would not consider the TV series Chuck to be science fiction. But it is. There is but one early and easy pill to swallow, a scientific one, which makes the series science fiction. From there the situations our hero Chuck finds himself in are believable within the framework of the story. And Chuck does find himself in multiple sticky situations, because he never stays in the car as instructed.
I could have started you on the classic Star Trek. But as a fledgling nerd, you might not be able to stomach that quite yet.
Chuck with its humor, action, and romance is easily accessible. You will thrill to watch Sarah Walker (not the same as a Star Wars walker) save Chuck from the dangers of the spy world and then discover Chuck is saving Sarah from that same world’s loneliness. All this while Team Bartowski saves the nation multiple times. Thank heavens Chuck never stays in the car like Casey and Sarah tell him.
Once you’ve devoured Chuck’s five seasons – and Chuck is additive, a binge-watch worthy of Downton Abbey – you can start on the Star Trek world or Once Upon a Time. Maybe sample Battlestar Galactica or Stargate. Then if your imagination has been sufficiently stirred, you can go for the truly complicated: Farscape.
How’s that for not staying in the car?
Music: The Planets
There’s music that’s fantasy and science fiction?
And the gold standard is Holst’s The Planets.
I could have chosen Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice made popular by Walt Disney dressing Mickey Mouse in wizard robes and giving him a broom. But The Planets emotionally embodies the world of fantasy and science fiction and brings it into a purely aural experience.
Each of the seven movements gives a modern interpretation of a planet yet pulls from historic myths. This is what good fantasy and science fiction of any media does: It causes us to view our contemporary world through new lens by drawing on our shared history of story and person.
See, fantasy and science fiction is not too hard to understand. Simply bring yourself and your imagination.
That is the true non-nerd primer.