Why do I love fantasy? Probably because ever since I was able to read on my own, I have read novels for escapism. While any type of leisure reading can offer us a break from reality, I particularly enjoy fantasy’s ability to transport us to entirely different worlds altogether.
Some people dislike fantasy because they feel that they can’t relate to such “unbelievable” stories; others decry it as a genre for nerds, along with its sibling sci-fi; and still others find themselves jaded by the recent rash of commercialism the genre has experienced with the likes of such blockbuster series as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia. Each person is entitled to his own opinion, of course, but I’d like to make a defense of my favorite type of literature against all the nay-sayers.
Firstly, while most fantasy novels may not be “literary” in the sense of the type of reading required in high school, it is certainly a real form of literature in its own right. Despite the usually impossible events that occur in fantasy stories, the author must have a real grasp of reality, as well, in order to render his narrative to the reader in an immediate and believable fashion. The characters, setting, and plot must all be as fully developed as those of any literary novel, and often (in my opinion, anyway), they appear more vividly in my mind than the more symbolic characters you might find in say, Hemingway or Shakespeare. Perhaps that’s why the genre seems to lend itself so well to film adaptations.
Speaking of worldbuilding, plotting, and characterisation, when you consider the casts of thousands and the sheer amount of detail realised in the worlds of such authors as J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Jordan, and George R.R. Martin, the execution of such a colossal feat of mental organisation is astonishing. There is a certain limitlessness to fantasy that lets the imagination run wild, yet at the same time, working within the constraints of an entirely imaginary world with its own laws of physics and culture is no easy task.
However, it is precisely this seeming boundlessness that I love so much, since it allows me to form entire new worlds from nothing but dreams. Writing is inherently a creative process, but when you realise an alternate universe entirely from scratch, I think you discover an even deeper connection with that creative spark that dwells within all artists.
There is value in portraying events within our own world, but what I find really beautiful about fantasy is how it allows us to see reflections of ourselves and our own experience of “reality” through the lense of a different one. Though the events be wholly imagined, they carry the same universal messages that we know and experience in our own lives, and we can still recognize and learn from these themes in the exploration of what could be and what might have been.
So, to conclude this week’s theme of dreaming and new beginnings, I’d say that all writers are dreamers. And we need writers of all kinds to continue to keep dreaming beyond what is to what ought to be, to continue to guard the soul of our civilisation and keep fanning that little flame against the darkness that overshadows our existence. In a world where there is so much despair and where things can seem rather mundane at times, who wouldn’t want to live in a world touched by a bit of magic?
Fantasy has allowed me to do just that.