The case for fantasy fiction

Presented with a well-stocked library, bookshop or friend’s bookshelf what genre of book do you choose? Do you feel comfortable with crime fiction, stifle a yawn over historical romance and skip quickly past fantasy and sci-fi? Or are legal dramas your thing? Or perhaps, tales of strife in distant lands, heroic deeds and family feuds? Do you ever read “the classics”?

There is a frequently voiced opinion among literary types that fantasy and science fiction are somehow less worthy, less monumental and less able to stand up to academic examination than other genres. It is widely considered that they have less to say and less to teach the reader – they are a bit comic-like, mass produced and written for the relatively uneducated, easily thrilled masses. In my opinion, try telling this to Homer, Tennyson, Asimov, Tolkein, Pullman, Rowling, Ishiguro, Attwood, Gaiman, Mitchell, Zafon, Orwell, Doctorow, Zales and many, many others – their books excel in forcing the reader to step beyond the familiar and to think ‘outside the (comfort) box.’ Their fantasies insist on great leaps of faith into unknown worlds and ignite imagination, triggering an explosion of ideas and vivid pictures in the reader’s head.

Because the new world is exciting and strange, the writer can exploit this and create characters who interact in ways that are on the one hand invented and on the other intrinsically human. They can be kind, cruel, jealous, commanding, loving, bullying and grieving but because they exist in an unfamiliar place their relationships can be scrutinised in a way that would seem too intrusive in the real world. Hierarchies can be established and explored and the politics of new lands with different laws and morals examined. The reader is forced, then, to reflect on their own morals in this world, to make comparisons and to learn  about themselves and their surroundings.

I believe that fantasy can transport us into worlds where our rules are re-written; where we are unshackled and escape from everyday worries binding us down on this earth.

Writing fantasy fiction is an escape into my dreams. Reading it is to tread across the words of another’s dreams.

Next time you are browsing the bookshelves, consider taking time out with a good science fiction or fantasy book.