Wreaking Havoc: The Fae in Urban Fantasy

Authors Eric R. Asher, Marie Brennan, Patricia Briggs, John G. Hartness, Ted Naifeh, and E. J. Stevens discussed the fae in urban fantasy and their tendency to wreak havoc in human lives at 10PM on Sunday. Moderator Carol Malcolm kept the discussion going. She began by asking whether the fae in the panelists’ work have specific purposes or goals that involve using humans or are just trying to fit in. Hartness said his series all involve hidden worlds. His fae manipulate humans but try to fit in or hide and shield their magic. Brennan’s Onyx Court is also a closed world. Her fae manipulate mortals for the purpose of making the world more congenial to them. Stevens took a different tack with her series lead Ivy Granger. Ivy is fae but doesn’t know it at first. She was raised human in a world where humans aren’t supposed to know about the fae. Those in Briggs’s Mercy Thompson series are post-apocalyptic and live in reservations. Asher’s fae, on the other hand, are in factions. Some want to live in the same realm with humans while others are content to live in faery. Naifeh’s comic book depicts them as living in a realm under a city neighborhood.

Discussing which of their fae were the most fun to create, Hartness admitted he didn’t create his fae, Puck, but stole him from Shakespeare. He feels pretty secure on the copyright issue, he said. Brennan’s fairy queen is part Maleficent and part Elfquest, a dark mirror of Elizabeth I. Briggs enjoyed making Baba Yaga fae instead of a witch. She’s the head of a huge marketing campaign for essential oils. Asher had one of his fairies turn another into a deadbolt, which can be opened only by kicking the fairy in the face. One of his fairies, Foster, is an “eight-inch murder machine” who morphs up to seven feet in height with a big wingspan.

The most defining characteristic of Naifeh’s fae is that they’re a metaphor for the natural world, besieged and exiled. Asher’s believe tradition is important even though they try to modernize from the ways their ancestors lived. Briggs’s post-apocalyptic fae despise and fear humans while Brennan’s interlock with mortal society and history. Stevens described hers as very diverse. Hartness said his are very manipulative, always working an angle, sometimes one that’s very different from what they say it is.

An audience member asked how, if magic is limitless, the authors decide what limits to impose on their fae. Stevens, admitting she likes to torture her characters, makes magic problematic. If a character has a vision, she risks never coming out of it. Asher also imposes a price for using magic. Someone who heals a fatal wound can go too far, then suffering the wound and possibly dying from it.  Brennan’s fae are vulnerable to iron. Hartness said he chooses whatever gets the biggest laugh and cold iron is always good. Naifeh always opts for whatever gets the character into, not out of, trouble.

The panel concluded with a hunt for a surprisingly elusive orange sticker on one of the chairs. The person in the chair finally discovered it and won a signed novel.

Author of the article

Nancy Northcott is the Comics Track Director for ConTinual. She's also a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction, fantasy, and history. Her published works include the Boar King's Honor historical fantasy trilogy and the Arachnid Files romantic suspense series. Collaborating with Jeanne Adams, she also writes the Outcast Station science fiction mystery series.

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