The Pill to Swallow in Fantasy and Science Fiction


Pill to Swallow photo credit: aussiegall via photopin cc

In any fantasy or science fiction story, whether literature or film, there’s always at least one premise…

One pill to swallow, if you will.

Too many pills forced down the reader’s throat and they’ll choke.

A person can take one, maybe three, premises, but too much more than that and the story simply gets silly.

Let’s look at some examples of excellent pills in books, movies, and television series:

3 Novels:

1.  A Series of Unfortunate Events


Series of Unfortunate Events photo credit: JasonTank via photopin cc

The pill:  An incredible amount of bad things can happen to resourceful and likable kids.

I could say the premise is there really is a person named Lemony Snicket (an absolutely awesome name, by the way) and he actually investigated the odd happenings around three orphans.

However, that is a long premise, sort of a horse pill.

From the back cover summaries and the first paragraphs, Lemony Snicket warns the reader of the pill to swallow and desperately makes reverse-psychological pleas to read happier fare.

Who wants to do that though? 

2.  Charlotte’s Web

The pill:  Animals can talk and reason.

Any kid can swallow that.


Charlotte’s Web photo credit: dixieroadrash via photopin cc

Once the premise is taken then it’s a short journey to a piglet in peril and a writing spider.

This is a no-brainer.  Ask a second grader.

3.  The Hobbit

The pill:  There is such a thing as a hobbit.

The first premise is not that there’s a Middle Earth or a greedy dragon or a ring of power (which barely comes into it anyway); it’s that there lived a hobbit in a hole in the ground.

Once you accept the fantasy species of hobbits, it’s pretty easy to believe the rest.

3 Films:

1.  Star Wars

The pill:  In a galaxy far, far away something interesting happened.


You don’t have to know about the existence of a Force right away.  You’re not required to believe in a grotesque, giant gangster worm or a little green man with funny syntax or even an amphibious creature called Jar-Jar Binks.

Thank heavens we weren’t forced to face Jar-Jar at the beginning.  I’d have quit.

Just believe there is a princess in trouble and a couple of droids set to a task.

The rest comes naturally… except Jar-Jar.

Anyway, by the introduction of that coolest of weapons, the light saber, you’re hooked.

Face it:  You’re hooked when the star destroyer flies over you into the movie screen.

2.  Galaxy Quest

The pill:  A campy television series could actually have galactic fans who believe it.


Galaxy Quest photo credit: numberstumper via photopin cc

Now you just hold on and have fun.

Even the characters don’t understand everything, like why Sigourney Weaver has to repeat what the computer says or why there’s Chompers in the belly of a space ship.

They just go with it, attempt to save the galaxy, protect Guy from being an expendable extra, and become a real crew.

3.  Ella Enchanted

The pill:  Fairy tales are more human (and modern) than we first believed.

Fairy tales have been around for so long their pills have been compounded into a chewable form that we’re willing and use to taking.

Ella’s twist is the modern humor injected in the story:  The medieval escalator, the singing elves, the dancing giants, Cary Elwes as the villain.

It’s a joyful and funny ride all the way through the last dance to “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”

3 TV Series:

1.  Once Upon a Time

The pill:  Fairy tales can cross into our world.


Once Upon a Time photo credit: Loren Javier via photopin cc

I was addicted to this show from the pilot.

•Who is who?

•Why is Regina so set against Snow White?

•How can this curse be broken?

•What did it have to do with Henry and Emma?

And all a viewer has to do is accept the tiny premise that fairy tales are of another dimension.


2.  Chuck

The pill:  A computer spy program can be downloaded into the human brain.

Yes, I am an avid Chuck fan.  My phone rings the Chuck Theme.  My computer screensaver is Buy More Nerd Herd.


Nerd Herder photo credit: bindermichi via photopin cc

Right at the beginning you’re asked to believe the Intersect story.  There’s not much asked of you to swallow after that for five seasons.

Except maybe that a gorgeous, intelligent, cool woman like Sarah Walker can fall for a nerd like Chuck Bartowski.

That’s not too unbelievable… surely.

3.  Star Trek

The pill:  The future of Earth will include warp travel.

Of course I had to include this quintessential sci-fi.

Warp travel is sci-fi theory.  It’s not even up to speculation in real science.

But once you give Star Trek that, the rest of the imagination opens up.


Captain Kirk’s Birthplace photo credit: _Madolan_ via photopin cc

And how it opens up!

•Klingons and Romulans

•Spock and Data

•Kirk’s fist fights and Picard’s Earl Grey

•Even Apollo as an alien and time loops that keep starting over with a poker game

Yeah, I’ll give them the concept of warp drive to get to the rest.

As for bad examples, the one that comes to mind is what I’ve heard about Sharknado.  But maybe bad examples would best be left to another blog.

So there’s a pill to swallow for fantasy and science fiction?

So what?

Bring me a glass of water, but not one too big.


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. September 21, 2013 #

    Love the picture with Galaxy Quest…HAHA

    • September 21, 2013 #

      It is a hoot! Star Trek Original really did have an episode near that name and that set. And Dr. Lazarus looks so forlorn.

  2. September 25, 2013 #

    You definitely got the pill for The Hobbit right! It seems like there are many to swallow, but it’s really just the first sentence of the book. As soon as you read it, you’re off.

    • September 25, 2013 #

      And what a good journey it is!

  3. November 14, 2013 #

    Love the Once Upon A Time!!

    • November 16, 2013 #

      Thanks, Meredith. So do I.


  1. 3 Family Halloween Movies | Drew Ellenwood - October 28, 2013

    […] might ask what do Halloween movies have to do with fantasy.  And I would say, “Halloween is […]

  2. The Problem with Invincibility | Drew Ellenwood - January 16, 2014

    […] He punches through the earth’s crust.  He flies around the world backwards to re-spin time.  (A pill I didn’t swallow very […]

  3. Contrary but Similar Motives in Heroes and Villains | Drew Ellenwood - January 28, 2014

    […] Regina in Once Upon a Time is conjuring her curse, the blind witch with her asks, “Then will we be happy?”  A pathetic […]

  4. 3 Human Questions Fantasy Novels Face | Drew Ellenwood - January 29, 2014

    […] sapped his life but not his hope of a safe Shire.  This was in spite of the realization that few hobbits would ever know of his sacrifice.  But his hope, this meaning, Frodo found the reasons to continue […]

  5. A Classic Christmas Fantasy... By Dickens! | Drew Ellenwood - January 29, 2014

    […] the version where Scrooge is portrayed by Patrick Stewart.  Yeah, you know, Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation.  How’s that, sci-fi and fantasy […]

  6. 2 Battle Strategies against the Refrigerator Beast | Drew Ellenwood - January 29, 2014

    […] it looks like sci-fi slime or a life form based on silicon, […]

  7. Justice League: Committed to Democracy or Oligarchy? | Drew Ellenwood - March 5, 2014

    […] no matter how limitless our power becomes, our spiritual and moral compasses remain broken – Star Trek’s optimism aside.  We need others to put a check on our baser tendencies.  Or at least I […]

  8. Fantasy Worlds in a Real Universe | Drew Ellenwood - March 26, 2014

    […] or science fiction author chucks out one or more real physical laws in order to construct an imaginative world where magic and dragons coexist, where starships can exceed the speed of light, where heroes still […]

  9. Unbelievable Stories in Fantasy and Science Fiction - April 26, 2014

    […] to take a swing for us in the fantasy and science fiction world.  Lucy revisits the topic of the pill to swallow in fantasy and science fiction.  In our first installment on this subject, I sited some examples […]

  10. Languages in Fantasy and Science Fiction | Drew Ellenwood - May 7, 2014

    […] the creators are taking their story.  That, in turn, will tell me whether or not I want to swallow the pill and jump into their […]