Why Fantasy?

I realize that I’ve been posting a lot more “thinking” posts rather than “meaty” posts lately. My comprehensive exams for my graduate program are due in 8 days. Once they’re behind me I hope to get back to more “crunchy” posting. That said, I started writing a story today… it just appeared in my head and I needed to start putting it on paper even if finishing it has to wait. I started writing this story and I reached a point where I had to make the decision, is this a fantasy story?

It’s a bigger question than it seems. I mean, I’ve been thinking about this for years. I think about it every time I go to the book store and find books that I classify as “sci-fi/fantasy” in the normal fiction section. While I realize that question is more about marketing/publishers, I still find it interesting where the lines get drawn. But my issue with my story was — if I make it clearly fantasy, you know, with non-humans, magic, and other trappings, it vastly changes the tone and feel of the story for the reader, even if the events would be identical to a story without those trappings. If I make it “fantasy” but with only humans, no magic, and just imaginary places/history, well, then a whole different tone. The decision matters.

I’ve always preferred fantasy stories (and I include some sci-fi in this category) over strictly realistic fiction. Not that I don’t enjoy realistic fiction — I do. But I appreciate fantasy’s ability to provide a “safe zone” for exploring ideas you would have to tackle more delicately in “realistic fiction.” I appreciate fantasy’s ability to provide us with proxies to face our problems and explore issues under the guise of entertainment. I’m studying in a Rhetoric of Law class this semester and one of our projects is to discuss media depictions/interpretations of the law. I’m working with issues of Astro City for my project, from the Dark Age storyline. I discussed them with my professor and she’s very interested in how the application of “superhero logic” to the courtroom allows for exploring real issues of the unreliability of witnesses, the persuasive impact of major precedents, and the concept of the jury of your “peers.” It’s a fun exploration, but at the end of the day, I simply love Astro City because it holds up a mirror — a larger than life mirror to be sure — to the struggles we all face.

My whole life, since I was a little kid, I’ve been fascinated by the gems of wisdom scattered in the seas of fantasy. Like many authors, fantasy authors can seem incredibly insightful, powerful, stunning, in the way their words can impact our imaginations and our lives. I’ve taken heat from some over the years for my love of fantasy. I’ve taken a lot of guff for valuing some imaginary world over our “real” world. To those people, I would venture to say that I learn more about what it means to be human from a good fantasy than I ever will watching FOX News.

The point is, I still worry about the reception I’ll receive when I create a project of “fantasy” but over the years, I worry less. I know the value of what I read and write. If someone decides it’s not for them, that’s fine — but I’m happy with my fantasy. I hope you are too.

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5 responses

  1. If you haven’t read it at all, I recommend a short story (really short, like a page and a half) called “The Zebra Storyteller”. It is pretty much about what this entry hints at — that stories allow us to explore things we might not normally be able to.

    Also, try writing your story as both fantasy and sci-fi and see which one works or resonates better with what you envision.

  2. I’ll check out the “The Zebra Storyteller” thanks. To clarify, I’m not so much concerned about Fantasy vs. Sci-fi. I’m more concerned about fantasy vs. “realistic” fiction. I’m happy with the fantastic elements for now, I enjoy describing them. I’ll see when the story is done how I feel about them.

  3. Ursala K Le Guin has written several collections of essays on fantasy and its role in literature over the last 40 years.

    You should be able to find “The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction” fairly easily; as I recall there are at least two essays in there specifically addressing your question from an author’s point of view.

  4. Awesome. Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll try to find that.

  5. cauldronofevil | Reply

    There is no such thing as “Genre’s”.

    I’d recommend throwing away the entire idea of ‘genres’ and write whatever tone you want. Fantasy doesn’t have to scream “I Am Fantasy!” and realistic stories don’t have to confine themselves to only physical reality.

    I think as both authors and readers we take those labels (which are only marketing labels after all) too seriously.

    I’ve tried to discuss this in more online, but the only response always seems to be “Of course there are genres! That’s why there’s genres!”

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