Robots in a Fantasy Setting?

Cait Sith from Final Fantasy 7

Cait Sith from Final Fantasy 7

When creating a world of magic, most people go the traditional route with medieval Europe level of technology.  Though accidents happen when you add a little plumbing or some more advanced items.  One may even go further with having magic-based technology like airships, magic guns, and flying cities.  The sky can be the limit once you step outside of the traditional settings.  Yet, there is one thing that doesn’t come up that often:

Robots!

The closest you usually get are golems.  These are artificial creatures forged by magic and typically used as mindless servants.  You see a lot of them in The Merchant of Nevra Coil.  They get mentioned a few times and big ones are unleashed in The Compass Key and Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue.  Still, they don’t exactly count as robots for many people.

Anime and video games seem to touch on this or at least get close.  For example, you have Cait Sith from Final Fantasy VII who is a remote-controlled robot in a world where magic exists.  Been a while, but I think he can use magic even though he’s a tech creation.  There might have been a little magical creation to him, but I really have to read up more on it agian. So you can see that it’s rare that you have a true combination.  Oddly enough, ‘Pinocchio’ and some variations on ‘Alice in Wonderland’ try this.  One is a marionette (tech for that world) made alive by magic.  The other has a version called ‘The Looking Glass Wars’, which has some characters using magic in a world that has robotic soldiers and high tech melee weapons.

I think part of the reason you don’t see many combinations is because of how people take to magic and technology.  Those who accept magic in a story tend to look at it as a natural and used by man.  Technology, on the other hand, is entirely man-made and artificial, so it doesn’t mix with magic.  Some also require a lot of science and logic in regards to technology, which isn’t the same with magic where you only need to remain within your own rules.  Both systems come under scrutiny and a robot in a magical world stands on the border with a spotlight.  Honestly, I do want to see more of these types of characters and creations.  As time moves on, I hope to slip a few into Windemere where the stories permit me.

So, what do you think of magical robots?  Any that come to mind?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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39 Responses to Robots in a Fantasy Setting?

  1. Jan Hawke says:

    One of my massive writer heroes is Julian May – her Saga of the (Pliocene) Exiles features hi-tech future weapons, time travel and paranormal abilities set during a prehistoric di-morphic alien occupation of Eurasia before homo habilis evolved which eventually gives rise to Faerie and Gnome-derived legends and folklore. No robots, but plenty of sci-fi staples. 🙂
    Funnily enough, my WiP has androids as guardians of re-emerging humanity set way in the future in a kind of terra-forming social-genesis experiment, rooted in Celtic legend with shapeshfters and such-like 😀

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    • That sounds like a very unique world. Trying to wrap my head around what kind of characters would be in there prior to homo habilis turning up.

      Androids would make very useful guardians. They don’t have to eat or drink or even sleep. I think I’ve seen a few animes with that kind of pairing, but they’re usually side characters.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jan Hawke says:

        The time travel element sends back modern humans back 6 million years to a supposedly idyllic Earth in between Ice Ages. They are immediately enslaved by one branch of the supernaturally endowed aliens, who are having trouble breeding and find Homo Sapiens a better match than the time native ramapethicine apes inhabiting Europe and Africa they’d previously been using…
        It’s a wonderful concept and really works on the fantasy/sci-fi ticket – there are prequels set in the 22nd century future that are based on the reverse premise – that humanity has evolved from the genetic makeup of the hybrid children born to the time travellers and the aliens. In particular, those Celtic descent and other ancient genotypes (the aliens are ultra pale-skinned, often red haired and allergic to the sun;s radiation…) 😉

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  2. It has been done though. I still hold that Star Wars was a fantasy with sci-fi elements. That means R2D2 and C3PO qualify. The chess game in Harry Potter came pretty close too, but you might sell the pieces as golems.

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  3. quiall says:

    There was a series called “Crusade” that had a character called a ‘techno mage’. He used technology to mimic magic. I loved it!

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  4. MishaBurnett says:

    The mad science of Phil Foglio’s webcomic “Girl Genius” is more like magic than technology. Some people, called sparks, have the ability to create magical seeming items. There are a lot of robots–called clanks–in that world.

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  5. L. Marie says:

    The robots in Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky come to mind. They had the power of this huge crystal in Laputa.
    I’d like to see more characters like this too!

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  6. jowensauthor says:

    One of the stories in my fantasy collection, Chronicles of Riss, has a couple of robots in it. The story is “Men Shouldn’t Play With Dolls”. The original, unedited version can be found here: http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewshortstory.asp?id=7495

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  7. None come to mind as far as magic. I guess I think of a robot as metal, steel and bits and bytes. I don’t see them as a product of magic. I see creatures that are magical though.

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  8. I’ve noticed that a lot of fantasy stories seem to take place in a post apocalyptic world, where there are ruins of our world.
    I think it was in one of Terry Brooks Shannara books that the heroes detoured through a ruined city that had a mechanical monster in it, but I can’t recall which book, it’s been a few years since I read those books.
    I’ve always felt that fantasy stories set in such worlds were fun, it was kind of like technology was a kind of magic that had failed and was fading out of existence.
    It would be interesting to see more robots in fantasy though.

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    • Shannara by Brooks and Books of Lost Swords by Saberhagen had that type of history. I think there are a few others out there. Though the latter didn’t have robots. It is interesting to see a world where magic appeared and either merged or destroyed technology. Something about what we see as modern technology being called ‘old world magic’ makes me smirk.

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      • I enjoy books where there are hints of old technology hiding in ruins. I think there are more hints than you might think, some are just hidden better than others.

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      • Especially when the book doesn’t name the object. You have to figure it out from the descriptions. For example, a flashlight might be called a fire-less torch. Could take a little time to figure out that it’s tech and not magic.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. In Skyrim and other Elder Scrolls games, there are Dwemer ruins where robots and other machines still function after thousands of years. The little spider robots do maintenance, while Sphere and Colossus robots attack intruders. However, because the Dwemer vanished and nobody understands how their robots function, they are regarded with almost the same awe and mystery as magic would be in a SF setting.

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  10. Pingback: Blog Round Up: June 2016 – Rachel Poli

  11. Oh I love it! I think I may have just found a new twist to my Novel. Great post sir 🙂

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  12. FantasyFed says:

    Personally if I had any kind of machine in my story such as a robot, regardless whether or not that robot has magical powers or not, I would be inclined to think it as a sci-fi rather than a fantasy novel.
    Though saying that, I have seen pure fantasy stories and movies where there are things such as mechanical owls or a mechanical flying horse and that wasn’t a true sci-fi as the owl was the only machine/robot in the story and it had a very small part in the story as a whole.
    I personally write fantasy, sci-fi and horror and I have to say I do have a mechanical eagle in one of my fantasy stories and I don’t intend to put that as a sci-fi just because of that.
    I think it depends how much of a main character the robot/machine is in the story.

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    • The thought that robots automatically make a story science fiction is fairly common. It gets tricky because of traditions. Personally, I think having a magic-powered robot turns it into fantasy because you’re not dealing with computers there. It loses the science side of things. You’re right that it can get more confusing when it’s mechanical, but not electronic such as the owl from ‘Clash of the Titans’. It really comes down to personal taste here from what I can tell.

      Liked by 1 person

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