Why Fantasy?

This is a reasonable question, yet one I’ve never really asked myself before. Why, out of all the genres out there, is it fantasy, most specifically YA fantasy, that appeals to me the most?

My bookshelves are so full that I have to stack books on top of books, and some of the books that I don’t want to get rid of but rarely read (ahem *Star Wars novels*) are packed away. I’d plead for more shelf space, but Carl has hogged it all already.

On my shelves, I have a smattering of classical literature – mostly Austen, Gaskell, Dickens, and Shakespeare. I have some of the Russians – Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky – but I’ve never made it all the way through one of their novels. The problem is I keep picking them up when I’m either pregnant or just had a baby, and I’m already prone to depression … not a good time to read the Russians, I have found.

There’s my history books covering two shelves, the books that I gleefully claim I need for research, but really just get because history of all kinds fascinates me. Then there’s my children’s lit – LM Montgomery, Maud Hart Lovelace, Elizabeth Enright, Louisa May Alcott, etc.

Agatha Christie gets one entire shelf to herself (she was a Very Prolific Author), and Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey, and Dorothy Gilman cover the next (none of them, alas, were as prolific as I would have liked). I do enjoy a good mystery, especially one that’s not too gruesome. And if you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time at all you know I have an illicit love affair going on with Lord Peter.

The rest of my shelves are all fantasy, and mostly YA or MG. From Narnia to Middle Earth to Prydain to E Nesbit’s England to Mossflower to Ancelstierre and the Old Kingdom to the Enchanted Forest and covering a whole lot more in between.

So why? What is it about fantasy that draws me so, that makes want to read it more than anything else? What is it that makes it my default for writing? Even trying to write a simple adventure story set in 1920s England turned into an alternate history type fantasy (really have to get back to that as soon as I’m done with the rough draft of Cadi’s story – Maia does not take kindly to being set aside for a time).

I never got all that into the traditional sword-and-sorcery fantasy. I’ve read some of those sorts of books and enjoyed them, but not for writing, and I usually only borrow them from the library instead of buying them for my very own. And I’m definitely not big into paranormal or urban fantasy. I have yet to read the book-whose-title-is-synonymous-with-dusk, and vampires etc just don’t really interest me terribly. Unless that vampire is Angel. Duh. Again, I have read some urban fantasy and enjoyed it, but not to the point where I ever want to buy any of the books.

So what is it about certain types of fantasy that draws me the most?

This might be an unfair post, because I don’t really have an answer yet. I think it’s important to ponder, though, and I suspect it boils down to something along the lines of a Lloyd Alexander quote I love:

Fantasy is hardly a way of escaping reality; it’s a way of understanding it.

I think that for me, fantasy has helped me understand this “real world” better, while also allowing me to accept things which we cannot see or understand. I do still believe in fairies, you see, and that belief has helped to shape me into a better person.

And if I can be an ambassador of a magical realm to this one, then that is a task I am proud and yet oddly humbled to accept.

What are your favorite genres to read or write, and why? Do you believe that fantasy does help us to understand reality better? Do you – as Peter Pan might demand – still believe in fairies?

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4 thoughts on “Why Fantasy?

  1. I love magic-as-ordinary. I especially love our-world-woth-magic-as-ordinary. More than anything I love historical-our-world-with-magic-as-ordinary because . . . well, I just do. Does there need to be a reason to have a favourite thing? The piece I am working on now is 1920s-Prohibition-Era-With-Magic and I giggle frequently as I work on it just because . . . well, what's NOT fun about that? Speakeasies and jazz are fun to begin with, but when you add assassin-magicians, it just gets better.I think fantasy, if done properly, takes what is good and makes it better. Wrede's Enchanted Forest, for example, took childhood fairy tale tropes and made them even more fun by applying some hilarious real-world-ity to them (Right Honourable Wicked Stepmothers' Travelling, Drinking and Debating Society? Yesplz) and I think that's partly where the fun comes in of taking real-world rules and adding magic (Vesper Holly only lacks magic, IMHO).I recommended it to you already today, I know, but it bears repeating– Marissa Doyle's Bewitching Season and its sequel would be right up your alley.

  2. I've never been a huge fan of fantasy…but watching (and now reading) Game of Thrones is changing that. I realize how liberating it can be to set entirely the parameters of your world, how uplifting to be able to do away with the things of this one that you don't like! I had a friend, once, who spent the time before she fell asleep imagining out a country she created, from the landscape to the way the currency looked. She said she looked forward to visiting all day. For my part, I read and write chick-lit. I think it's also liberating for women to be able to read books that feature characters that look like themselves…people who aren't doing anything too spectacular or out of the ordinary, but just getting through the day…and still getting that happy ending. It's optimistic and fun, and smart, too, when done correctly!

  3. I've never been able to come up with an exact reason why I love it myself (but I almost feel like I could have written this entire post myself, but for a bit more interest in urban fantasy. Not vampires though. Not that I don't like paranormal, I just have always had this weird thing against vampires. I will say that there's a YA urban fantasy series that I love but will not name because of the spoiler that I am about to say, but I got absolutely furious with the author when halfway through she turned my favorite character into a vampire. She actually handled it really well, and he's still my favorite character, but it was the PRINCIPLE of the thing! I just hate vampires that much! Wait, I think I got off-topic. Wasn't I originally in the middle of a parenthetical statement? Yes, I was. Well then).But I think I just like the option of Possibility. I like the idea of What if? I like seeing the world in new ways! This is why I'm probably most fond of real-world-set "light" fantasy, too. And I do agree that fantasy helps us see reality better. Sometimes the very reality of a topic blinds you to the nuances of it. It's a thought I had when I was reading Finnegan of the Rock, a book that, if it was realistic fiction, would be an extremely depressing political/human-rights/historical plea-for-aid sort of thing meant to make you in your comfortable society guilty and uncomfortable– but somehow setting it in a fantasy land made the broader issues stand out and made you, ironically enough, CARE MORE. As for other genres, I have also been a lifelong mystery fanatic. But I think the one thing that ties everything I read together, except Madeleine L'Engle's realistic fiction which by all rights I ought to hate but love anyway, is a sense of the odd and unexpected. I LOVE humor. I'll read realistic books if they're funny (or written by Madeleine L'Engle). I love fantasy best when it's funny. And mysteries. And EVERYTHING. What I write tends to be never straight on, either. I won't say I write in any particular genre so much as I just DON'T write anything straight on realistic. I like my reality a little warped. Sometimes it's flat-out fantastical, other times it's just that the characters and situations are a bit over-the-top.

  4. Andrea – oh yes, the combination of fantasy into the real world, or real world into fantasy, are so utterly delightful and FUN. Taking what's good and making it better – I like that idea, and I think I'll have to hang on to it.(And I added Bewitching Season to my library list, and am hoping to be able to pick it up before heading up to my parents' next week. Vacation reading FTW!)Connie – I do like reading about ordinary people, too. In fact, I have an entire post half-planned on how one of my biggest pet peeves in literature right now, especially YA, are people who SEEM ordinary and then suddenly turn out to have "something special" about them that makes them the only one who can do – whatever it is they are doing. I would much rather read about Plain Jane being the last person in the world fitted for her task, but struggling through and making it work anyway just because of her very ordinariness. Because THAT'S a person I can relate to, not someone who wakes up one day and discovers she is the last member of a secret society who can bewitch people with her violet eyes and it is up to her to save the world from the evil anti-violet-eye league! Or something of that sort.Rockinlibrarian – Warped reality. YES. I have a warped view of life anyway (or so most people tell me), so it makes sense that I would like to read things that are just a little askew. I'm reading The Thin Man right now, and Nick Charles is killing me – "I heard a loud noise over the phone, like shots. 'Hello?' The line went dead. I hung up. 'What was that?' Nora asked. 'Insurance. Where's my drink?'" SO MUCH LOVE.

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