Sunday, February 5, 2023

Honing In On 2023 -- & Celebrating the "Band of Brothers" in Fantasy

Last year, I refeatured Having Fun with Epic Fantasy: the Band of Brothers, a post that first appeared on SF Signal

The play that coined the famous term

At the time, I considered it an interesting sidepost to 2022's What Makes A Hero? series, but in refeaturing it found I could not argue with the central premise that "the famous (Shakespeare: Henry V) quote, 'we band of brothers', speaks to the heart of epic fantasy."

Tom Hiddleston as Henry V
As also noted, the “band of brothers” appears throughout fairytale, folklore and myth, (examples included Robin Hood and His Merry Men, King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, and Penthesilea and the Amazons) but also in history and in the legendary overlap between history and myth. 

LoTR's Aragorn & "not this day": note the similarity to Henry V

Arguably, King Arthur lies within that overlap, since there's reason to believe he was a real person, but almost certainly not anything like the central figure depicted in the Round Table and Holy Grail legends. 

Real historical examples include the Spartan Three Hundred (and less-mentioned allies) that died to a man at Thermopylae (480 BCE), but delayed the invading Persians long enough for the Greek states to muster and defeat the invaders by sea at Salamis, and by land at Plataea. Another, significant example is the "Sacred Band" of  Thebes, another company of three hundred comprising 150 fighting pairs who were also lovers.  

King Arthur & the Round Table: literally a 'shining company'
The King Arthur and the Round Table, the Three Hundred and Sacred Band, and the Y Goddoddin's Shining Company (celebrated by Rosemary Sutcliff in the novel of the same name) tie the "band of brothers" to epic fantasy's tradition of the quest journey and battles, usually against overwhelming odds, to save the world. 

Clearly, these traditions informs Shakespeare's famous St Crispin's Day speech on the eve of the life-and-death battle (against seemingly overwhelming odds) of Agincourtas well as the now-classic WW2 mini series about "Easy" Company of the 101st Airborne Division. 

Yet stepping beyond epic and war, the "band of brothers" metamorphoses into the "band of buddies", aka the "Scooby gang." Aside from Scooby Doo itself, the term is closely associated with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the close-knit friends that support Buffy and work together to overcome Sunnyvale's monsters. 

Consistent with the "band of brothers" tradition, the big-bads are frequently bigger and badder than Buffy, so the odds frequently feel overwhelming. At some point in the series, the argument is made that the whole reason Buffy survives longer than your average Slayer is because she has a "Scooby gang" rather than being the traditional "lone wolf." While at the last she literally has a band of Slayer sisters.J


Buffy & the original Scooby Gang

If epic fantasy's "bands of brothers" tie primarily to world-altering quests and battles, the Buffy-style  Scooby gang is far more closely related to fairytale and folklore's band of faithful friends and lovable (often animal or magical) companions met in pursuit of smaller-scale adventures. Puss in Boots is one classic example, Prince Ivan and the Wolf another. 

Yet whatever their origin or the style of tale in which they appear, Fantasy would not be the same without its "bands of brothers" and "Scooby gangs." So I'll be starting this year by focusing on some of my favourite examples from fantasy literature, as well as referencing examples from my own writing.

See you here again on March for more "band of brothers" and "scooby gang" fun. J


About The Author:

Helen Lowe is an award-winning novelist, poet, and lover of story. With four books published to date, she is currently completing the final instalment in The Wall Of Night series.

Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we.

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