Saturday, January 19, 2013

Accessories in Fantasy

Recently, one of my readers read the Fashion in Fantasy series on the blog last year and commented that something seemed to be missing. After a bit of thought, it came to me: I'd barely begun to scratch the surface of one of the most essential elements in a fantasy story--the accessories.

Don't look so surprised. After all, what self-respecting fantasy story doesn't contain at least one necklace-with-amazing-powers or a turban filled with a dark presence or a scarlet cloak rippling in the chill winter breeze? Clearly, in the realm of Faerie, even ordinary objects and accessories have the potential to become extraordinary. We, as fantasy writers and readers, should exploit that potential.

So let's explore accessories in fantasy in more depth. First, let's take a quick look at all sorts of objects and accessories, and, second, how you can use them in your story.

The types of accessories are virtually endless, but let me list some here to get you thinking. There is jewelry, from a necklace to a single gemstone or a golden ring. There is headwear, like crowns, tiaras, turbans, fedoras, and all sorts of hats. There are handbags (what self-respecting girl, after all, even in a fantasy world, wants to be without her trusty purse?). And, too, there are all sorts of shoes--glass slippers, seven-league boots, the latest chic Jimmy Choo heels.... It could be a rusty old key or broken eyeglasses or a small handmirror. There are lots more ideas--more may come to your mind as we continue. Above all, make sure that the accessories you choose are uniquely suited to the world of your story.

Next, let's think about the uses for these objects.

  • Flair: Some objects may not have any fantastic powers but may simply add to their personality or their signature "flair." Examples: Little Red Riding Hood's red riding hood; Sherlock Holmes in his tweed suit with a magnifying glass
  • Love: As a symbol of love and trust, accessories can be unparalleled. Even in the "real world" we use rings and jewels to convey how precious our loved ones are. Example: Aragorn and Arwen's jeweled necklace from Lord of the Rings
  • Family Heirlooms: Again, as in the real world, the objects that have the most meaning to us are often the ones passed down from generation to generation. (Of course, such objects may very well have powers beyond simply surface value.) Using such objects would give a bit of the backstory behind your characters and what they value in their lives. Example: Harry Potter's invisibility cloak, inherited from his father
  • Historical Item: This type of object can be used to expand your storyworld and give insights into the background of your tale. History is important because it affects the present. (This type of item can, of course, be combined with some sort of power as well.) Example: Aragorn's crown of Gondor from Lord of the Rings
  • Contains a Secret Message: Such uses for accessories abound in many of the best stories. After all, who would think to look for a message in the engraving of great-grandaddy's spectacles or in Aunt Marge's scarf? Examples: Madame Defarge in Dickens' Tale of Two Cities was most adept at hiding information in her knitting; the broken eyeglasses in the first Transformers movie contained coordinates to a hidden object
  • Contains Magical Powers: This, of course, is the quintessential use of an accessory in fantasy. Whether it confers invisibility, superspeed, control over the elements, or more, an object in a fantasy novel can be a great repository of magical power. Examples: seven-league boots; magic mirror
  • Contains Evil or a Curse: This, too, is a common (but important) use of artifacts in fantasy. A curse can lie unsuspected in a normal-looking object, posing a threat to all who draw near. Or, worse, an object may contain an evil being that the hero must conquer. Examples: JK Rowling in the Harry Potter series has done an excellent job in hiding evil in the most unexpected places--under a turban, in the first book, and inside a cursed necklace in the sixth; Also, Frodo's ring contains a definite evil, I'd say.
As you can see, the use of accessories in fantasy is a crucial art to master, and one that gives fantasy writers many possible tools to help or hinder the heroes along their quests. Comment below and let me know if you remember any particular accessories from fantasy stories you've read, or if you have special accessories in your story that are meaningful in any way.


  1. Like in Auralia's Colors. The Ring of Trust is given to Auralia to protect her by the Prince' command. That was an important one. This is interesting to think about. Good post!

    1. Good example -- which reminds me, I need to put that book on my reading list. Thanks for the comment!

  2. So far all the accessories in my book have meaning, but no magic. One of my characters is the son of a duke, but is in exile (long story that), and he wearing a silver ring on a chain round his neck, the ring being a reminder of his family.

    And one of my other characters has a locket with miniature paintings for her mother and father in it, which is a reminder of her dead parents for her.

    That's all I've got so far really, but I'm sure a magical artefact will turn up soon. in fact, I'm counting on it!

    1. That's quite an interesting and meaningful accessory list, Imogen. Nice work! And a magical artifact would definitely be most exciting :)


Please remember to post graciously, whether or not you agree with the post.

Proverbs 15:1
"A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."