English; The Arts; Humanities and Social Sciences; Science
Genre; Narrative Structure; Film Language
This integrated sequence of learning activities has a strong focus on analysing and thinking critically. Students will learn about and explore the distinguishing features and conventions of the science fiction and fantasy genres and narrative structure and film making techniques.
Other: Do a web search for “Spellbinder” as there are a number of websites created by fans with photos from the production, particularly on location in Poland, which are interesting. (Be aware that these are not official websites so there are mistakes.)
Example sites include:
General Science Fiction site: http://www.princessleia.com/Scifi.html
Quest Beyond Time Winners Series, ACTF, book and video.
Select and adapt these learning activities to meet the needs of your students and the time available.
Introduction to Genre Discuss the concept of genre with the class. Make a list of all of the genres students describe such as:
o Science fiction
o Fantasy… etc.
Compile a list of one or two good examples of texts for each genre.
Divide the students into groups and allocate one genre to each group. Have students list further examples for their genre including books, TV, film, sound, digital, games, comics, etc.
Ask students to create a list of common attributes or conventions for their selected genre, including locations, characters, writing styles, costumes and special effects, lighting styles, music/sound effects, as well as common symbols, myths and icons of the genres.
Genre Text examples Common features (conventions)
comedy Round the Twist comic characters/stereotypes, visual and aural gags, fantastic and silly situations, parodies, etc
Common features (conventions)
Round the Twist
comic characters/stereotypes, visual and aural gags, fantastic and silly situations, parodies, etc
Groups report back to the class and lists are displayed. Discuss.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Explain to the class that the focus now is on exploring the conventions of Science Fiction (SF) and Fantasy genres. As a class activity, revisit the SF and Fantasy lists created in the activity above and add more example texts onto the lists. Add as many books, films, TV, and games, etc, as possible.
For example: The Harry Potter series
Crash Zone (ACTF series)
Lost in Space
The Girl from Tomorrow (available from the ACTF)
Escape from Jupiter (available from the ACTF)
Lord of the Rings
Legacy of the Silver Shadow (ACTF series)
The websites below have extensive lists of SF and Fantasy books suitable for this age group.
Note: “‘Sci-fi’ is the term generally used by science fiction fans to describe bad science fiction. ‘SF’ is the preferred term for science fiction in general, though the former term is used more frequently by the media.” Mark Juddery, “The true fiction of Sally Marshall”, Australian Screen Education 20/21 p71.
SF and Fantasy — what’s the difference?
Revisit the SF and Fantasy genre conventions list from above and discuss the differences between SF and Fantasy. Look at the lists of texts and divide them into SF/fantasy/both.
Create a Venn diagram mapping the common links and differences between the two genres.
Write a brief initial definition of each genre. (This diagram and the definitions can be revisited and revised at the end of the unit.)
Exploring the conventions of SF and Fantasy What often happens in these stories? What are the common elements, the conventions of these genres?
Have students work in small groups and use their knowledge of these listed texts to expand the original list of the identified common conventions of fantasy and SF. List all the elements beneath each main heading. See example below as a guide.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Genre Chart
Key ideas, themes
major task to accomplish
powers or special skills
suddenly in another world
ethical or moral dilemma
sense of urgency
decision needs to be made…
back in time
faithful friend(s), servant
strong connection between protagonist and antagonist…
good versus evil
tradition versus science
good will triumph
ignorance and knowledge
Create a class chart from the group lists.
Parallel Worlds View episodes 1-3 of Spellbinder.
Discuss the concept of parallel worlds, which is the basis of this story. Paul, a modern day kid suddenly finds himself in a world where the industrial revolution never happened, a medieval world with spectacular castles and forests. What does this mean for the narrative? What other texts use the SF/fantasy concept of parallel worlds? (e.g.: the TV series Sliders, The Girl from Tomorrow and Dr Who, the film Sliding Doors, the book His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman, the game Myst, etc).
Discuss why this is such a popular theme in recent literature and media texts.
How does Spellbinder fit into the conventions of the genre(s)?
Give each student a copy of the SF/fantasy genre conventions class chart developed earlier. Students work in pairs to go through the conventions listed on the SF/fantasy genre chart and compare features with the Spellbinder story so far.
Discuss and add further information to the master chart as required.
Exploring the two worlds Explain how film and TV makers use elements such as set design, props, costumes, location, etc, with great thought and care to create their story and to get their meaning across to the audience.
Paul’s world Re screen some examples from Episode 1 of how Paul’s world - our world - is represented. There are three key sets to observe. Review a few minutes of each set and freeze-frame the VHS on a key scene for each one to enable closer observation of all the details.
Darken the screen for each set so that the sound is the only key to the story. Have students listen carefully to the different elements focusing on the music, sound effects, background noise, etc.
Students can work independently to record their observations on a chart such as the one below while viewing. They can then work in small groups and share their information.
Paul’s (our) world
Props and set dressing (Symbols)
e.g. How would you describe this location? Where is it? What are the key elements?
Look at how the sets have been designed. What do we see? Look for the details.
How do the styles and colours
give clues as to the era and genre?
How does the camera work to give us this information? Look for close-ups, panning shots, etc, to see how the film maker draws your attention to certain things.
Listen to the music, what style is it? What does that indicate?
What sound effects can you hear?
What words would you use to describe this community?
Interior set: school science lab
chemicals flasks, etc, in lab.
up to date
Interior set: Paul’s home
kitchen items: toaster, kettle telephone, etc.
Exterior set: school camp:
bush - rock,
pylons and power.
Create a class master chart. Discuss the ways in which the filmmakers have worked together to create this world.
Riana’s world — the village Discuss and identify the various elements of Riana’s world. Re-screen a clip from Episode 2 in which Paul first comes into Riana’s village. Select a scene in the village and freeze-frame the video to give the students the opportunity to carefully observe the visual details of what is creating this world. Listen to the scene carefully. What messages are the filmmakers giving about Riana’s world? How do they do it?
Students complete the following chart in the same way.
Props and set dressing (Symbols)
Exterior set: forest
paths to travel on, no roads
colours of villagers clothes – natural, natural colours, earthy oranges, reds, browns and greens
natural fibres, woven materials
food cooked on open fire
simple designs, flowing, not clinging,
look home made
close-ups of the objects bartered for in the market place.
Interior set: (inside Riana’s cottage)…
Riana’s world — the Spellbinders’ castle View Episode 5 where Paul is brought before the Council of Regents in the Spellbinders’ castle and is found guilty of stealing an Eyestone. Focus students’ attention on the design and creation of this contrasting part of Riana’s world.
Students complete the following chart of the Spellbinders’ castle.
Props and set dressing (Symbols)
Interior set: (interior set)
Students can write a 50-word pen picture for each of these three major locations, describing each of them to someone who has not seen the series.
The role of fantasy and imagination in the SF/fantasy genres Discuss the role of fantasy and imagination in the Spellbinder series. How does this contribute to the way the story is set up? Why do we believe that this is possible?
The role of Science
Discuss the role of science in the series. Some starting questions include:
- How does science work in SF?
- What is the role of science in Spellbinder?
- Is the scientific information given in the series correct?
- Does the science always have to be correct?
- What is the role of imagination in science?
- Where does science fit with imagination and fantasy?
Science and knowledge = power Discuss the key aspect of the story which has the Spellbinders controlling all the knowledge in Riana’s world. To the villagers, the Spellbinders are like magicians, supernatural beings, to be loved and feared equally. The Spellbinders' technology is far beyond their understanding. The Spellbinders ensure that this system is maintained by ruthlessly suppressing any new ideas developed by the villagers. Anyone breaking Spellbinder law is banished to the Wastelands to perish.
Why do the Spellbinders want to control the knowledge? List their reasons.
(By keeping the villagers ignorant of science and technology, "any sufficiently advanced technology seems like magic" and the Spellbinders can maintain their power and position of privilege.)
Discuss the following questions: How do the Spellbinders respond to Paul? What does he represent?
How do the villagers respond to him?
What happens in this world when Paul arrives and begins to challenge the way the society is structured?
Why do many people respond in fear when faced with something strange and outside their experience?
Creating a new character for Spellbinder
How would you react if you found a person from a parallel world in your life? Discuss.
Create a new character with special skills and qualities from a more technologically advanced world than ours, who suddenly appears in your school. Draw a diagram, create a website or a PowerPoint presentation showing how he/she looks, including clothes, the type of world he/she comes from and create some symbols or icons and special tools.
View Episode 13 where Riana is unexpectedly thrust into Paul’s world and is confronted with the immensity of the strange world she has come to.
Write a description of some of the strange behaviours and items Riana and your character might be confronted by in our world.
Write a one-page script for the scene where Paul meets your character. Consider the location, the relationship between Paul and this character — for example, are they friends or enemies? What is the situation? Who else is there? What happens?
Message in Spellbinder A typical feature of SF is the “…use of a surreal story to make comment upon the real world.” (Mark Juddery, “The true fiction of Sally Marshall”, ASE 20/21, p67). Students can look up the word surreal in the dictionary. Discuss this observation. Do you think this is true?
What messages do you think the creators of Spellbinder are making about the real world?
Look at other examples of this genre such as excerpts from ‘The Wizard of Earthsea’ Ursula Le Guin (1971)