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Fantastical Biology – Part Six: Fantasy Creatures & Urban Living

Wildlife isn’t the first thing that might come to mind when you think of the city, but lots of animals make their homes there. Things are no different in fantasy cities, and urban fantasy is a popular genre often featuring fantastical incursions into modern day life. Looking at how nature copes in real cities can help build a strong urban fantasy setting.

Where and When

Neon Dragon by Nigel QuarlessIf your story’s setting is modern day earth, then you have an important decision to make: is the fantasy element known or unknown to the general population? Lost Girl is an urban fantasy television show where the fantastical is hidden from normal humans. Many of the protagonist’s adventures center around keeping the fantastical world a secret from normal people, while simultaneously protecting them from those fantastical creatures.

Taking the opposite route is True Blood, a world where vampires have revealed themselves to society and try to live alongside us thanks to the invention of synthetic blood. This kind of urban fantasy gets to imagine how our world would cope with the fantastical, were it real. A similar idea is introducing fantasy into our past, and then imagining how history would change because of this. Ian Tregillis’ Bitter Seeds takes place during World War II, in which a Nazi scientist finds a way to give people psychic powers, prompting Britain to answer by recruiting wizards.

Then there is third-world urban fantasy. China Miéville’s New Crobuzon is a city in which fantastical creatures are an everyday occurrence.

Making a Living

El Duende by Carolina-EadeHaving a varied diet can give a fantastical creature an edge in the city, especially if they like the leftovers we toss away. There are lots of examples in folklore of beings like pixies and hobgoblins causing trouble around the house (or their sometimes helpful cousin the brownie, who will clean while you sleep). Perhaps these tiny fairies become the pigeons and rats of your city.

Don’t just limit your creativity to the land, either. Muskrats and beavers will make homes in water features, such as the ornamental ponds in city parks. Might your fantastical city have to deal with Kappa infestations? Speaking of nature spirits, where do they go when their forests are replaced with skyscrapers? Do they flee to more remote areas, or do they, like so many real animals, adapt to the cities? If your fantasy creature has wings or the ability to fly, fitting them into an urban environment shouldn’t be too hard.

Scrappers-busting-out-final by Marko-DjurdjevicWhere there is prey, there will be predators. Coyotes and foxes can do well in cities alongside more common hunters, like cats. When figuring out what sort of fantasy creatures you want in your urban fantasy, filling out the rest of the food chain can add more realism to the setting. If the fantasy element is unknown to the general populace, having a fantastical predator roaming the streets can be used to create tension in the story for your protagonist and anyone else aware of the secret danger.

Building it Bigger

Cloud City Guardians by lordeeasWhat if you want something larger than rats and birds? How big animals are incorporated into the story will depend a lot on the rest of the setting. For instance, seeing an elephant on the streets of New York City would turn a few heads, but less so in India (though I imagine it’s still a sight to see, they are impressive). Large predators like leopards and bears will forage for food in the city, since neither of them are picky eaters…or welcome visitors. Animals that need a lot of open ground don’t typically do well in urban environments unless, as in the elephant example, they’re accommodated by humans.

In the Valdemar series; mystical horses, lizard people, and griffins co-exist with humans, and their living spaces are designed to accommodate both. If your large fantasy creature is common in your setting, perhaps used to pull carriages as horses once were, then it might not draw any attention at all. If this creature is uncommon though, or if fantasy creatures are hidden from the general populace, then a kraken in the Thames will probably cause a city-wide panic.

Pests and Pets

Twilight in Glo-frog City by nicholaskoleIf you’re looking for ideas to incorporate into your story, make sure to research how we deal with animals in our own cities. If fairies are your too-common pests, are there also faerie catchers equipped with nets made of iron? If a fantasy city is under siege, the fantastical pests may become food, as rats often have for us in the past. Of course not all city animals are pests, and in this article I’ve already mentioned horses and other work beasts, but humans keep a variety of pets. What sort of creatures would be considered good pets in an urban fantasy? And finally, don’t forget that when humans and animals live in close quarters, there is always a risk of disease.

When crafting an urban fantasy, walk through some city streets and parks, and imagine how the buildings and areas could shelter fantastical creatures. Study the animals that are there and how they’re moving through the environment. Discovering the wild equivalent of city architecture (such as telephone wires acting as trees for squirrels to run across) can give ideas on how your fantasy creatures might fit into an urban environment.

Title image by Ishutani.



  1. Avatar Bibliotropic says:

    It’s funny how invaluable perspective like this is, and yet how often people seem to overlook it when it comes to crafting their own worlds and stories. Many thanks for writing articles like this; it’s excellent prompting and world-building!

  2. […] world biology to inspire urban fantasy settings is up at Fantasy Faction. Be sure to check it out here, especially if you write in that […]

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