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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

GUEST POST: Ten Reasons Why We Love The Fantasy Genre by A. E Marling

We have all done it. Stolen into a bookstore’s hoard of stories then scampered off with a freshly purchased fantasy, the treasure held close, to be savored in blissful solitude or amid the buzz of bus rides or as a ward against wasting time in waiting rooms. Yet why do we choose fantasy? Why do we feel that burst of expectation, of hope, when our download completes for our eReader and we can glimpse that first line, that first step into a new fantasy story. If we could chose but one word to describe why we love the fantasy genre, what would it be?

After asking over two hundred people just that question, I swirled the answers in a Wordle caldron, added some eye of newt, mumbled the magic words of my New Year’s resolution, and created a pictorial art. Before viewing it, feel free to pick your own word describing why you love the fantasy genre. You may even add it to the word trove.

The size of words in the collage are proportional to the responses given, and if you can spot Numinous tucked beneath Escape, you’ll see a word that squeaked its way into the top ten.

 #10: many of us would scramble for our dictionary apps after this word enters the conversation, it came to multiple minds when describing fantasy. The word describes the tingling sensation of entering the unknown. A glittering mist of a forbidden valley, a rush down our spine as we enter a crystal cavern. It’s the sense that you’re entering a sacred place, ripe with otherworldly presence and mystery.

But it is more than that. It’s also the uplifting feeling of divine duty when heroes reenter the fray, such as when Aragorn convinces King Theoden to ride out of Helm’s Deep in the Two Towers. The belief in a higher purpose and a deep sense of right emboldens us and gives us the strength to continue in the face of however many hardships and orcs.

For those seeking the Numinous, try the Lord of the Rings by You Know Who, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin.

#9: Let’s face it. Sometimes we want our unicorns and we want them now. You always dreamed of riding a horse that flies? Fantasy has your Pegasus right here. How about pirates battling sea dragons with blunderbuss wands? No problem. Fantasy gives us what we want, and if reality tries to get in the way, we have a Delayed Fireball spell waiting.

Pursuers of Fun may enjoy Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Series and its mayhem of fantasy creatures, humor, and colorful characters. I recommend starting with Equal Rites or Guards! Guards! Clearly, the Harry Potter novels also fit in this category as snug as a baby dragon in its egg. And for an Urban Fantasy option with a male lead, try the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

#8: Not only do we delve dragon lairs and fly through clouds in fantasy, but we also get to go on our perilous quest alongside colorful characters. When reading a fantasy novel we can be confident we’ll see amazing places, encounter the spectacular, and battle alongside the stupendous.

If you’re looking for a gritty adventure into lands of gold-dust and vice, try Red Country by Joe Abercrombie. A journey into a forbidden realm populated with cat people? How about Black Sun Rising by C. S. Friedman. For a trek over the glittering sands, try The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones.

#7: Fantasy is storytelling unbound. It’s Freedom from expectation, from the grind of the work-week, from reminders of reality. If I wanted real-life stories I could always read the newspaper. Fantasy unhinges the narrative from worldly references (or at least dilutes them) and allows us to relax and enjoy the tale.

For pure Freedom, I’d recommend the alternate-world novels that take you to the farthest reaches of unknown lands, such as The Killing Moon by NK Jemisin, The Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, or Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear. Also, Brent Weeks chose Freedom as his word, so I think it right to include his epic fantasy, The Black Prism.

#6-5: A recurring theme is the peeling away of expectation and the dissolving of limits. Fantasy can take you anywhere and on a magic carpet, too, and on that journey you can encounter anything. That freshness, that newness, revitalizes us and makes each new fantasy story exciting and memorable.

For examples of how far fantasy can go, try The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells, where flying shapeshifters delve into a massive sea-monster to retrieve their stolen treasure, and The Hogfather by Terry Pratchett, where the equivalent of Santa Claus is assassinated, and Death has to stand in for the festivities.

#4: Our bubbling anticipation turns into a flash of joy when a fantasy story takes us where we never expected to go, shows us that epic visual that steals our breath. Fantasy is the spoonful of Wonder that helps the reality go down.

Both David Farland and Gail Carriger picked Wonder for their word, so check out his book The Sum of All Men, and her werewolf-infested steampunk, Soulless. And while the door is open to steampunk with fantasy flavors, taste test Hard Magic by Larry Correia.

#3: I’ll admit it if you do, too. I want magical powers. Don’t I deserve them, after all? Fantasy stories give me an opportunity to experience using magic, without the temptation to misuse them. (Which I would, and deliciously so.) What was that old adage? With great power comes great fun.

If Magic is your bubbling cup of magenta tea, then you may enjoy my own novels. Magic beats at the heart of my stories, where I have multiple magic systems, each with their own set of rules and unique ways to craft wonder. For the magic of enchantment, try Brood of Bones or Fox’s Bride. For the forbidden Feasting magic, slip on The Gown of Shadow and Flame.

#2: A fantasy story is a vacation to another world for the price of a sandwich. Sometimes we need a breather from reality, to step back and gain perspective, to better return invigorated and able to cope with hardships. We may have a tough boss, but if Harry Potter could topple dark lords, we could probably get that report in on time after all.

Sometimes all we need is a break of a few hours or a few days. Other times, we need something more akin to a sabbatical, or a home away from home with characters that we come to know as dear friends and cherish. If you need Escape and a lot of it, try The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.

#1: I encourage people to touch the sky of human imagination and read fantasy. A wealth of creative thought is what the genre is most known for. Reading fantasy gives us license to imagine things that never were and never could have been, and we revel in their impossibility. It allows us to recapture the imaginative games of play we loved as children, which expand our minds and allow us to develop into well-balanced adults.

Imagination is mankind’s greatest strength. It takes us to the moon. It cures diseases. It lights the first fire. The wondrous must be imagined before it can become. Fantasy novels are both an exhibition of imagination and gymnasiums for imaginative thought.

For a banquet of imagination, I recommend The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. For book size would not kill a small animal if dropped from a three-feet height, try the equally glittering in creativity Monster Blood Tattoo series by DM Cornish. To see other Wordle collages containing these words and more, venture to my website. I feel remiss for not recommending more fantasy novels. Feel free to correct this deficiency in the comments section, pairing suggestions with which word best represents the fantasy novel.

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Alan wrote his first fantasy novella after his freshman year in high school. In college, he found nothing gave him a greater urge to write than science lectures, and he sat through a lot of ‘em. He has yet to repent his fascination with fantasy and is intrigued by its grip on the human imagination. 

Both ambidextrous and word-voracious, his diet ranges from Arthurian legends to Jane Austen. He denies being a running addict, though he has to shout it over the noise of the treadmill. He dances as directed by demons. And, yes, he partakes in fantasy-related gaming.

His best writing ideas pounce on him when he would rather be sleeping, thanks to insomnia. His current lair is in the shadow of San Francisco, and his thoughts touch ground there between flights.

NOTE: Cover picture is "Arrival at Svetoslav Sanctuary" by Tuomas Korpi.


M. R. Mathias said...

Great post!

Michael J. Sullivan said...

A great list. I hope we see a bit of pendulum swing back to "Fun Escapist" in the near future: Abercrombie, Lynch, Martin are giving us a great mix of "dark, gritty and some say realistic (which if that is true I live in a different reality)" but I find it difficult finding an adventure with a hero (even if they have their flaws).

The Reader said...

Hi Michael,

There are some truly fun fantasy series like your debut series and that by Rachel Aaron. It's a fine balance and I think there will always be readers who like their books to be on the lighter (non-campy) side.


Robin Lythgoe said...

Excellent post, Alan, full of your usual witty and clever observations! Love the way you matched books to words—I'm adding to my To Read list (again).

Hana .P .B said...

I'd say I agree with most of the points mentioned!


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