Far-off places! Daring swordfights! Magic spells! A prince in disguise!

PhotobucketA blog friend of mine recently wrote a post posing the question, “Why fantasy?” Other than the fact that the obvious answer is, “Uh, why not?” I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. (As the newest BDH poster, you should know this about me. I spend a lot of time thinking about stuff. I’m kind of the worst about it. I’m super annoying to be around in real life because I’m always living in my head. Daydreaming is for amateurs. What I do is more along the lines of Xtreme Reverie, complete with a bangin’ guitar riff.)

So I got to thinking about fantasy and why I love it so much. All fiction is make-believe, really, but fantasy (and all of its various subsets and related genres such as science-fiction) is make-believe without limits. Anything can happen. ANYTHING. And that’s why I love it.  For some fantasy provides an escape from the toils of the everyday and I won’t deny that it’s played that role in my life. I didn’t really get into serial fantasy novels until I was about fourteen and feeling deeply jaded and misunderstood about everything, usually followed by a dramatic sigh. And you know what? Terry Brooks totally helped me deal. So did Tamora Pierce, J.K. Rowling, Diane Duane, J.R.R. Tolkien, you name it, chances are I probably read it. (Except for the Wheel of Time books. Never could get into those.) Sophie Hatter taught me how to be comfortable within my own skin and Alanna of Trebond told me how to stand up for myself. As a side note, Alanna also taught me more about flirting than any school dance ever did.

As I grew up, the fantasy became less about the escapism and more about sheer possibility. Nearly always there’s the theme of overcoming insurmountable odds to win the battle. I say “nearly always” because that leaves a little bit of wiggle room, but honestly? It’s ALWAYS there. My love for serial books morphed into a love for serial TV shows, which I really feel is the best of both worlds. Asking me to pick between books and TV would be like asking me to pick a favorite Weasley.

Fantasy feeds my imagination and that, in turn, gives me a reserve to draw from when I create things. I hear a lot of talk from my teacher friends about fostering imagination in kids, but why doesn’t anyone ever do anything about fostering imagination in adults? Fantasy doesn’t take away from the fact that there are truly horrible things that happen in this world or even the fact that there are some pretty wonderful things that also take place.  I believe that real life and fantastical life can co-exist. (Just like narwhals and unicorns.)

So I feel completely safe in assuming that you all have some experience in the field and I pose the same question to you. Why fantasy? And why does it matter?

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20 Responses to “Far-off places! Daring swordfights! Magic spells! A prince in disguise!”
  1. Ashley says:

    I’m really glad you posted this. I feel like I’m going to spend the rest of my life defending the merits of imaginative literature from people who insist on believing that being an “adult” is the pinnacle of existence, as if being an adult means cutting away everything fun and unrealistic from your life, as if it is impossible to discover true things about life and being a human by thinking about things that aren’t real, at least in a tangible sense, anyway. As a kid, I don’t think I ever read fantasy or science fiction in order to escape. I never felt like I was leaving anywhere, it felt more like finding. Although I’m not denying that some people certainly use it in this way, for me, using your imagination isn’t about ignoring real life, it’s about taking real life and putting it somewhere else, so you can see it better, or see it differently. And that’s not something that’s not just useful for entertainment. If more adults had better imaginations, and if they knew how to use them responsibly, the world would be a very different place.

    As always, I can never put this into words as accurately as I want to and it’s coming out weirder and weirder the more I type, so I’ll just let J.K. Rowling say some things for me instead, because she is the Queen of Everything:

    “If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

    [source]

    • Gretchen Alice says:

      I feel like I need to start a series of imagination classes for stuffy people.
      And J.K. Rowling ALWAYS says it best.

  2. Dan says:

    My initial reaction was “Ah! A quote from Beauty and the Beast!!” Then I managed to pull myself together and read what you’d actually written.

    I’ve never understood the need to build hierarchies around entertainment. This kind of book is better than that kind of book. Watching this show means you’re cultured, but watching this show means you’re a drooling moron. Do what makes you happy and who cares what everyone else does.

    That being said: why fantasy? Maybe this grows out of the escapist answer, but fantasy allows me to imagine doing things that I’ll never be able to do. I could, theoretically, become a private detective or go on an archaeological dig. But, I’m fairly certain I’ll never storm a castle, cast a magic spell, or see a dragon. Fantasy (and all of its little brothers and sisters) allows me to do those things. That’s why I read fantasy.

  3. heather anne says:

    Well said, Gretchen!

  4. Jen says:

    When I was in high school, I was on vacation with my Dad and stepmom and I was reading one of the books in the Redwall series. My stepmom asked what it was about and I told her (you know, talking field mice that fight evil rats and stuff) and after I got done describing this great series and how much I really loved it, she told me “That just sounds weird, Jen.” like it was the dumbest thing she had ever heard. Some people will just never understand what it’s like to have an imagination as an adult.

    Thanks for posting this.

  5. Kristen says:

    You know who is an excellent author of both Science Fiction AND Fantasy? You know who I’m going to say, right? Yeah. And after 20 years, she’s writing fantasy again – with two more follow ups to The Deed of Paksenarrion… :) After several years on the YA paranormal shelf I’m hitting fantasy pretty hard again – and wondering why I ever strayed.

  6. Jen says:

    Hey BDH, I gave you an award over at my blog today for being just a super awesome blog. Check it out and pay it forward (if you want to).

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