Why you should care about fantasy fiction

Image courtesy of Jason Coates

Image courtesy of Jason Coates http://bit.ly/1yPwIZ5

I’ve known a few people (and I’ve heard of more) who say they just don’t like fantasy. When I’ve asked why not, the answer has usually been that they don’t like the orcs and trolls and goblins and elves and dwarves and all that sort of thing. They prefer realistic stories that have to do with the real world.

So why does fantasy exist at all if it’s mere freakish escapism with no connection to reality? Why can’t we get our heads out of the clouds and settle down to something more practical?

I’ll spoil the end for you: I believe that fantasy is eminently practical — that it has much more to do with real life than most people might suspect.

Fantasy reflects our world through a curious sort of lens, and by showing it this way, it helps us see our world all the more clearly. That’s the real magic.

Sometimes this roundabout way is the only way for us to see things about our world that we’ve been blinded to, not because they’re hidden, but because they’re right under our nose. I agree with C.S. Lewis that humans are marked by “the horror and neglect of the obvious.” Fantasy helps us see the good and evil, mercy and cruelty, courage and cowardice, justice and treachery, and wonder and awe in our world more clearly than we might have seen otherwise.

But some people haven’t experienced this. Either they’ve never tried, or they have tried but couldn’t see past the elves, wargs, wizards, nymphs, and the like. It seems people who don’t like fantasy make a great mistake: thinking that these fantastical things are what fantasy is *about.*

All these fay and faerie elements are the skin of fantasy, not its soul.

Of course, bad fantasy might focus on the dragons and gnomes and witches and magic for the sake of the spectacle they provide, and stories like that are hardly worth telling.

What do you think? Does fantasy give us something that can’t be gotten elsewhere? Does it have other value or uses?

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3 Comments

  1. Eric Mack

     /  January 22, 2015

    Good post!

    Eric D. Mack, MKM eProductivity Specialist Email: Eric.Mack@ICA.com Tel: (661)242-8410×101 Skype: eProductivityGuy Web: http://www.ICA.com | Blog: http://www.EricMackOnLine.com

    Get “in” to empty Stay on top of your game Get more done http://www.eProductivity.com

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  2. Marcus Rigsby

     /  January 24, 2015

    Fantasy can be a way of exploring reality by stretching it past its realistic limits. You can throw characters into situations not available to us in nature and really see what human beings are capable of. Similar fabulous situations exist in realism, but not with the same sense of wonderment that comes from discovering that our world is magic, like we thought it was when we were small children.

    The only point I would challenge is that fantasy which uses fantastical elements for the sake of escape is always bad, although I couldn’t call it literary. Escapist writers often don’t know what fantasy is for or what it’s capable of, but they are aware that fantastical elements can assist a feeling of exploration and wonder. Any story that can instill these feelings in its audience is at least successful. That’s acknowledging that stories are always about something, and they’re almost never about what they’re about. The storyteller has a reason for telling their story the way they tell it over any other story any other way, and these reasons may be one of the keys to distinguishing the good stories from the bad.

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    • Thanks for your input! I’m sure there’s a whole can of worms we can open here about what distinguishes good stories from bad, but I think you’re right that any story that can instill wonder is not altogether unsuccessful.

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