The Autumnlands #11 Discussion: High-Fantasy Villains
Written by: Kurt Busiek
Art by: Ben Dewey
I used to be a sucker for high-fantasy, you know, the stories that involve big quests where knights and wizards set off to save the world from some grave evil. It’s fun stuff, though on reflection, never award winning. If you’ve seen one group of heroes kill a dragon, you’ve kind of seen ‘em all do it. It doesn’t help that the villains are usually evil for the sake of it, easily despised and hardly interesting.
The Autumnlands is goddamn refreshing then.
And make no mistake, this series does fall under high fantasy. Magic is seeping out of the world (which is catastrophic for worlds that rely on magic) so a small group of wizards threw a spell together to summon a champion that would right all of the wrongs. Enter Learoyd, a human fish out of water that has teamed up with a novice wizard and, as of Issue 11, a drunken talking goat. Can our ragtag group of heroes find the answers they need to save the world?
Yeah. If this isn’t high fantasy, then I don’t know what is.
What sets this series apart from so many of its brethren—aside from the talking animals of course—is the lack of a villain*. As of now, it’s still unclear who is to blame for the dwindling magic, if anyone is to blame at all. The strange phenomenon over the last few issues could be a miss-direction. Hell, for all we know, the dwindling magic is but a natural disaster on par with an earthquake or volcanic eruption. It could very well be the false problem of this series, with a much bigger one looming ahead.
I love that we don’t have a concrete answer for this yet. We’re eleven issues in and almost done with a second arc, and all we have are little clues to a giant mystery that may not even be the mystery we should be investigating.
I am perhaps jumping the gun here. We have seen other humans walking around, and they have some wicked-strange technology with them to boot. Odds are the vanishing magic and the giant walking spiders are connected. These may be our evil-for-the-sake-of-evil villains that Learyod will have to vanquish, but…but I don’t expect that to be the case. Nothing about our interactions with that one lady struck me as on par with Sauron, Sargeras, The Crimson King, Takhisis, Ganondorf, Virigar, Darken Raul, or any number of boring villains found in high fantasy novels. Nothing about the stone ladies, who are assuredly tied into the other human characters as well, did either.
Now, most high-fantasy villains are nothing more than narrative tools–things for the heroes to face and defeat. Lord of the Rings isn’t about Sauron; it’s about the Fellowship trying to topple him. In the case of Autumnlands though, that still isn’t quite the case. Right now, there are no villains to serve as such a focal point. There is no, “The end of our quest lies this way!” because no one knows where they should be going. All the clues Learoyd and Dusty are finding aren’t paving the way towards some evil foe but opening up elements to the world itself that have been unexplored by the talking animals that live in it.
There is something going on in the Autumnlands, something quite bad, but given how this series has progressed, I don’t think it’ll be anything we can easily predict.
And that too sets it far apart from most high-fantasy stories on the market.
*There are a good handful of other big differences between this series and other high-fantasy properties I have read, but this is the one I’ve found to be the most interesting. I also don’t feel like turning this into a dissertation, ya know?