Pages Below the Vaulted Sky asks an interesting question: Where are the sports in our fondest fantasy stories? It took me a while, and some prompting from others to compile a list of 9 games or recreations played in books I had read… So the following list does draw on a diverse array of fantasy fiction, not all of it suitable for under 18s! Here they are, in no particular order.
Quidditch – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling, 1997
Sport is a very important subject at school, that’s why I gave Quidditch such an important place at Hogwarts. I was very bad in sports, so I gave Harry a talent I would really loved to have. Who wouldn’t want to fly?J. K. Rowling
Flying around on broomsticks, playing a game involving four balls, two of which are trying to kill you? Yep, this is almost as good as rugby! I actually saw the ‘muggle’ version of the game with a promotion that ran some taster sessions at my primary school where I work. It was total madness, but then, it did seem fun too. You can’t get more fantastical than a game beyond the realm of current sporting activities – Quidditch isn’t Wizard Football, it is something new entirely.
Wizard Chess – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J. K. Rowling, 1997
Ron, you don’t suppose this is going to be like . . real wizard’s chess, do you?
Ron:Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the film, 2001
Yes Hermione, I think this is going to be exactly like wizard’s chess.
Another entry from the Harry Potter franchise, Wizard Chess is much different in how it is presented than Quidditch. While the latter is alien, new and otherworldly, Wizard Chess is based in the familiar. It is essentially the same as chess, but with better pieces.
Kaissa – Tarnsman of Gor, John Norman, 1967
Mintar was lost in thought, his small eyes fastened to the red and yellow squares of the board. Having recognized our presence, Marlenus, too, turned his attention to the game. A brief, crafty light flickered momentarily in Mintar’s small eyes, and his pudgy hand hovered, hesitating an instant, over one of the pieces of the hundred-squared board, a centered Tarnsman. He touched it, committing himself to moving it. A brief exchange followed, like a chain reaction, neither man considering his moves for a moment, First Tarnsman took First Tarnsman, Second Spearman responded by neutralizing First Tarnsman, City neutralized Spearman, Assassin took City, Assassin fell to Second Tarnsman, Tarnsman to Spear Slave, Spear Slave to Spear Slave.John Norman
Another game based upon chess, Kaissa uses two rows of ten pieces as opposed to the two rows of eight we use in chess. Unlike Wizard Chess, Kaissa forms a central part of the plot in several books of the the Gor series.
Thud – Thud, Terry Pratchet, 2005
“He hated games they made the world look too simple. Chess, in particular, had always annoyed him. It was the dumb way the pawns went off and slaughtered their fellow pawns while the king lounged about doing nothing. If only the pawns would’ve united … the whole board could’ve been a republic in about a dozen moves.”Terry Pratchet
It is many, many years since I read Thud (13 or 14, I think) but the idea that Thud is like chess should be discounted – Unless one means Viking Chess! The pieces represent trolls and dwarves in a recreation of an ancient battle. Which is often reenacted for real wherever trolls and dwarves meet.
Pai Sho – Avatar the Last Airbender, Anime
I always tried to tell you that Pai Sho is more than just a game.Iroh
Not at all like chess, not at all, but more like Go from China. Pai Sho appears in several episodes of the Last Airbender, and there is some sort of secret society of master Pai Sho players. However, there are no ‘cannon’ rules of the game – though several fan-made versions do exist. The philosophy behind the game is used in several episodes as a metaphor for life.
So? What’s the big deal?
What is the big deal about having games in a fantasy setting? But games are how people learn and spend their recreational time – and have for far longer than written history.
In Ancient Sumeria, the Royal Game of Ur was played, with written rules, dating back some six thousand years. Games and sports are as intrinsic to civilisation as farming and law.
So, to make a fantasy setting seem more real, include games! Include sports.
I really should listen to my own advice, lol.