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?

5 thoughts on “Why you should care about fantasy fiction

  1. 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.


    1. 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.


  2. A really good post! About the bit about people wanting stories based on the real world, I think many of those people somewhat lost the point of the fantasy genre. Fantasy can be an escape but if we look at it closely, it’s not really an escape. It’s more that the harsh realities of life are painted in a different light. The species might be different and the world might look different but at the end of the day, there are still characters who care about their family or loved ones, they are still the people who want to make their world a better one for one cause or another and there will always be character who are, for a lack of better word, not quite as nice. So, overall, I think it’s just a point of view of some people, I suppose.

    That brings me to my next point. I think some people might have had bad experiences with fantasy. I am a huge fantasy nerd but some people are not and they might have picked up a less than ideal book for the genre and based their opinions from that. Because let’s be honest, generally a book is only good if it’s written well and the plot isn’t too bad. That takes some skill.

    Before I start babbling, I will stop here but I think a little bit of fantasy is absolutely needed in everybody’s life. It manages to create interest, it enhances our imagination, it makes us see things from a different lens but with sharper focus.


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