I will begin by admitting that writing this is strangely cathartic (most writing is). I’m not pushing an agenda, and I certainly don’t write to prove a point. Then why write? Well, why the hell not? In the past 2 1/2 years I’ve read a massive amount of books, mainly on literature (because of my thesis). When reading about fantasy -whether it is for adults or children- I came across the term escapist, which was not used in a positive way (I will explain it more later). Although the term initially appears innocent, once analysis kicks in it begins to take a life of its own… something which surprisingly happens quite often in literary analysis and criticism. I will, of course, spare you the details and explain where I’m going with this. Fantasy, as a genre, is often “accused” of being, let’s say, less significant, or not possessing enough literary value and merit. And this opinion is not only shared by some critics, but also many readers (I actually know quite a few of them). Readers who are not very familiar with the genre will usually think of the following things when the word fantasy is mentioned: monsters, wizards, magic, creatures, other worlds, parallel realities, and so on. Therefore, they immediately assume that a fantasy novel is as far removed from the real world as Sarah Palin… oh, SNAP!
I should mention, at this point, that I personally love fantasy literature. Not all of it, obviously, but enough to consider myself a big fan, and an avid supporter of the genre. However, having written an 80,000 word thesis on fantasy literature, allow me to take the liberty to also consider myself a tiny and humble expert, eagerly attempting to prove some people wrong. But I still haven’t made my point, have I? Pardonnez-moi! As with all genres, the fantasy realm is also sprinkled with more than enough bad seeds. Having said that, my own reading experience in fantasy lands, these past ten years, has allowed me to journey far and wide, without, however, leaving my own world …literally or metaphorically.
My admiration of fantasy authors and fascination with their work lies in their extraordinary ability to not only conceive of, contrive, and create entire and complete worlds, but the way they make them appear believable, relatable, and strangely palpable. How many times have you come across a book that is rich in fantastical elements but in which you can still find a version of yourself, or someone else? For while you’re mentally dwelling in that world, it becomes your own. But even more impressive and uncanny is the way that certain mental landscapes are indelibly and eternally etched in a reader’s mind as a result of reading a book. And should the reader decide to one day sojourn there again, the now familiar landscape will awaken from its slumber and welcome the reader once again.
And that is where the “realist” might raise his index finger and exclaim “Aha! So you’re an escapist!” And to that you could say, “silly, don’t all books allow us to escape in some way or another?” But if he knows what he’s talking about, that’s not what he means. Escapism actually refers to the way that people may take some means of entertainment (whether that is fiction, video games, music, films) to the extreme as a result of their inability and unwillingness to relate to and function in the real world. Simply put, instead of living in the real world, they live through these mediums. And here again you might say to me… I still don’t understand where you’re going with this. And that might be because I don’t either. But what does that have to do with fantasy? Well, when you think about it, fantasy and escapism are intricately woven into the very fiber of our existence. Whether our lives are good, bad or mediocre, at some point, we will all seek for that something else, and if we’re lucky enough, we might find it. Because the fantastic does not always reside in books, films, daydreams. Just as the real and the true can sometimes be relative, so can the otherworldly.
Am I making any sense? … I didn’t think so. If all the above was a prologue or an introduction, this would be my thesis: why is a love story with a happy end any more real than the world of Peter V. Brett’s The Painted Man? I truly believe, as do many other readers and critics, that, in fantasy, the real is successfully magnified and much more easily discernible when the fairy dust settles.
And where, you might inquire, can we find such prominent magical reality? I thought you’d never ask! Allow me to suggest just a few of the books that have kept me company all these years. But before I leave you, beware: reality is as relative as taste, so don’t shoot if you don’t like!
- Philip Pullman – His Dark Materials Trilogy
- Peter V. Brett – The Painted Man
- David Almond – Skellig
- Trudi Canavan – Black Magician Trilogy
- R. R. Martin – A Song of Ice and Fire Series
- Brian Selznick – The Invention of Hugo Cabret
- Neil Gaiman – The Sandman Series (graphic novel)
more to come …toodles!