I’m a late-bloomer when it comes to reading and loving the fantasy genre. I remember adoring The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a child, but even quixotic notions of lampposts in wintry woods didn’t compel me to embrace fantasy. It took Stephen King and my husband (long before he was my husband) to lure me into other realms.
I found King’s work when I was eleven. Yeah, that’s young to read about rabid dogs and even more rabid clowns, but please don’t judge my parents. I was a crafty kid. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I began and quickly became obsessed with The Dark Tower series, which is still my favorite fantasy series. Sorry, Potter Fans. I’m really sorry.
My formal introduction to the fantasy genre was romantic. Well, romantic to this bookworm.
I was reading Song of Susannah when my husband introduced himself. Before I could bookmark my page and flutter my eyelashes, he had printed off a list of books he thought I should try out. Soon I was reading Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, and Jacqueline Carey. And I found myself married to my best friend.
Seriously. Tres romantique.
I won’t bore you with all the reasons I avoided fantasy. Most of them were misguided and snobbish. This from a horror fan who knew all the stigmas attached to being a lover of this genre, particularly a female fan.
What I want instead is to tell you why I think this genre is fascinating as well as fantastical and why it’s seeing such a widespread resurgence in popularity. Why I keep going back to it, and dream of dragons, champions, and wizards.
- The world building. The world we live in and negotiate every day can be tough, maddening, and there are long stretches of time in which little makes sense. In a fantasy novel, there is a new world with new people, or creatures, and rules. In our life, we don’t often know what stakes are at play when we make our choices. In a book, we do. There’s danger and evil and never are the choices easy, but a good novel pulls you in with its depth and it’s a virtual vacation. It’s freshness gives you the reader a chance not only that break from your daily affairs, but chances are you come away with a new perspective.
- Transformation. In life it’s often hard to step back and truly witness how we, and the ones we love, have changed over time. Or perhaps you’re on the cusp of making different choices in your life and you’re afraid. Even if you can’t admit it to yourself. Fantasy grounds itself in transformation. Harry Potter, Fitzchilvary, and Katniss Everdeen- we share in their personal trajectory and find inspiration and cause for bravery through them.
- The Issues. Fantasy is a safe place where we can explore issues that abound in our modern culture. Rarely is any issue black and white, even in a good read. Only within the story,nothing is expected from us but to turn the page and go along for the ride. Yet we’re in the characters’ shoes, navigating racism, plays for power, hubris, sexuality, and more. I know a few fantasy writers. They’re often savvy to both our history and our present- the world around them matters and their stories often mirror contemporary society. Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind is one of my favorite books. When I finished reading it, I understood better where I stood with my own ideals and beliefs. It challenged me to think beyond the surface of routine and media.
- The Power of One. I don’t know about you, but sometimes, or to be honest- often, when I watch the news I come away wondering what little ole me can do to make a difference. Life appears to work hard at taking away our personal power. Fantasy novels show us over and over again that this is a choice we make. Do we give away or give up our sense of what we can do as individuals to create ripples, and rock the boat? Yes, story says. Bravery isn’t in not being afraid, but choosing to use that fear to propel you through your challenge. One person, or creature, does matter. You matter. One small choice made in courage and with love leads to another. A boy in specs can lead a magical army, one girl with a sword can change the course of war, a hobbit can overcome great evil.
Fantasy reminds you magic exists everywhere and imagination is an astounding gift we all have access to.