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Friday, August 17, 2012

GUEST POST: WHY FANTASY? by Amanda McCrina


Fantasy is supposed to be something you outgrow. There’s supposed to come a point at which you put it aside, along with all other childish things, and start reading and writing real books. Fantasy isn’t Literature, you see. There’s a sort of stigma associated with it. When grown-ups ask about my novel, I smile thinly and shuffle my feet and say, “Well, it’s kind of a coming-of-age story and there are Themes and stuff. It’s pretty Deep, actually.” Then I retreat hastily onto duller, safer ground. Because it would be embarrassing to admit that it’s a fantasy novel. I’m a grown-up myself now. Why am I still reading fantasy? Why am I writing it?

The stigma is silly, of course. The world’s oldest and proudest storytelling traditions have always been fantastical: Gilgamesh, The Iliad, Beowulf. The idea that fantasy is only for kids or nerds is a fairly modern one.

The problem with fantasy is that it’s necessarily, well, fantastical. It either twists and skews our own world until it’s off-kilter and unfamiliar, or it transports us into a different world altogether. What good is that for teaching us how to cope with life in our own mundane, magic-less, self-absorbed reality? Therefore we tell ourselves that fantasy shouldn’t have a place in the adult world.

Which, I think, is a regrettably misinformed attitude towards fantasy. J. R. R. Tolkien had this to say in his remarkable essay “On Fairy Stories”:

 "Probably every writer making a secondary world, a fantasy, every sub-creator, wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it."


(Tolkien picture Credit: The Guardian and Reuters)

Tolkien considered reality an integral part of all good fantasy. Fantasy may give us the self-indulgent opportunity to push beyond the boundaries of “possible” and imagine what might be different about our world, but ultimately those differences are mere details. Details aren’t the Reality to which Tolkien refers. Fantasy is created by humans, therefore it will always build upon and speak to the human experience.

If that’s the case, though--why not read things that deal with our reality directly? Why bother with fantasy at all?

Tolkien suggests that we’re actually at our most human when we create fantasy worlds, because the urge to imagine and create is an inherent part of our human makeup. On a similar note, I think the ability to create a fantasy world that resonates with readers requires a fundamental understanding of our own reality--an understanding of what makes us tick. Fantasy allows us to see ourselves more clearly, to cut through all the layers of “detail” until we reach what really matters--and what really matters will always be the same, whether your desert planet has a binary sunset, or your school years are spent battling the dark wizard who killed your parents, or you live in a hole in the ground in a place called the Shire. 

Fantasy gives us the necessary distance to understand ourselves. We don’t need to purge fantasy from our bookshelves when we grow up. Fantasy will always belong there; we just need to remind ourselves why!


AUTHOR INFORMATION: Amanda McCrina has lived in Atlanta, Georgia for most of her life. She is currently a full time student majoring in history and with a minor in political science. She has a deep abiding interest in twentieth-century warfare–the World Wars, the Cold War, the Spanish Civil War–as well as a love of ancient Roman history which lead to the creation of her debut and the Cymeria series. She loves film and film culture and is a fan of Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott and Hayao Miyazaki. Amanda’s literary loves include Rosemary Sutcliff, George Orwell, P.G. Wodehouse, Douglas Adams, Timothy Zahn and Ernest Hemingway. His Own Good Sword is her debut.

2 comments:

M. R. Mathias said...

Nice post.

I believe that people READ fantasy to escape reality. And anyone who writes fiction is a REAL creator simply because they have taken words and turned them into images and ideas and places and people. There are characters that live on, just as their Writer/God created them, in the worlds they are from. Rand, Pug, Smog, Locke, and Ged just to name a few. The writer DID create another world, and anyone who starts reading gets to enjoy it.

Authors and musicians are wizards of the highest order, fantasy authors even more so because they have to create the world as well as the story and people in it.

"His Own Good Sword" just crept up a dozen places in my TBR. - M.R.

SusanThompson said...

Does this topic has to do with your occupation or maybe is it more about your leisure and free time?

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