Why fantasy?

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The other day, I got chatting with a random guy in a restaurant. He overheard the waitress asking what I was working on, and me talking a bit about my work-in-progress fantasy novel. Once the waitress left, Random Guy closed his political nonfiction book and he asked me, “Why fantasy?” I asked what he meant, and he just repeated, “Why fantasy?”, squinting thoughtfully at me.

For someone who grew up on video games, it’s like being asked why people eat food, or why I’m wearing clothes right now. Why ever not fantasy? But hey, I approve of questioning seemingly basic things, so I’m not one to judge. And Random Guy seemed as genuinely curious as the waitress had. Do tell, Heidi. Why fantasy?

So I told him this facet of the many-sided truth: fantasy is a way of examining the real world. Criticize our society too directly and people often don’t want to hear it; the criticism hits too close to home. It’s hard to, say, think objectively about economic responsibility if you’re worrying about your own student loans. But if you use fantasy to pose the same question, just with some psychological distance, people are often more willing to think and open their minds. If we’re discussing a far-away land where a king is trying to bring his impoverished realm back to wealth and health, well, that’s a much safer subject for us 21st century Earth folk to talk about. We can draw conclusions at our leisure.

That’s a part of my motivation to write Stories of Aligare. I figure that my cooperative world and its positive values can raise some helpful questions about our own lives. We might look at the day-to-day efforts of aemets, korvi and ferrin and think, “Huh. Humans don’t live like that. Could we live like that?” It might be a meaningful revelation for some people. Or, y’know, maybe they’ll find some other revelation I hadn’t planned on. But that’s not the reason I began making a writer of myself. I wasn’t trying to pass along some grandiose moral through the concepts of dragons and magic. Then why fantasy, Heidi?

Since that evening in the restaurant, I’ve been thinking about what makes fantasy such a deeply rooted part of my thoughts. And the only conclusions I can draw is that, well, we all live in varying degrees of fantasy. Everyone perceives the world in their own way. We imagine what tomorrow’s haircut will look like, or how our lives would change if we win the lottery. We look at other human beings and form mental caricatures of them — sometimes accurate, sometimes pure fiction. People believe in various combinations of gods, ghosts, reincarnation, lake monsters and astral phenomena. There might be other planes of existence out there, other timelines full of any possibility we can imagine. So when we talk about elves or magic spells and call that “fantasy”, it’s a pretty arbitrary line we’re drawing. Fantasy has as much presence and meaning as we choose to see.

Fantasy can still be cool battles, fireball spells and dramatic chases on dragonback. I mean, just because the genre can support deep thought doesn’t mean it should be deadly serious all the time. But I wouldn’t be putting so much of myself into fantasy books if there wasn’t a lot to genuinely wonder about. And that potential allowed me to have a nice, intelligent conversation with that random guy in the restaurant. I’m glad he thought to ask me why.

(Edit: Almost forgot to credit my image sources! The nighttime landscape picture came from here and the dragon clipart came from here. Composition was done by yours truly.)


5 Comments on “Why fantasy?”

  1. It’s hard to put a finger on it, isn’t it? Why fantasy? I love it so much, but why? Maybe because it’s an escape from the everyday boring routine. Maybe because it is like living in the past with knights and heroes and magic. I think it is really the characters that I love. The risks and rewards just seem greater in fantasy. The chance for heroism deeper. It makes the characters that much stronger.

    • Fantasy does have a way of amplifying emotions and journeys, doesn’t it? I guess the knights and magic are a way of making metaphors more real (in a manner of speaking).


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