18 February, 2010

Why I Read Fantasy? or A Defense of Fantasy

It's always more scholarly when you have two titles for an article, although less so when you mention it. If you're looking for a discourse on why Fantasy and Science Fiction should be recognized as literary works, you may want to look elsewhere. Not only am I unqualified to address such an issue, but what I wish to discuss is much more personal.

I've grown up reading fantasy (which I will use interchangeably with science fiction) and what began as a form of escapism has more than developed into a love and appreciation for the genre. Picking up anything else has become a hassle most of the time with only the rare exception.

I love lists and I am probably only upstaged in that regard by Harry Markov, who has more than an obsession. :) In light of this, I will present why I love reading fantasy in list form:

1. Magic. I grew up wishing I could be a combination of Wolverine, Spider-man, and the Silver Surfer. I realize the last one kind of nullifies the rest, but I wanted it anyway. In Economics, we talk about magic being one of the reasons why people have developed technology - finding a quicker, easier way to get rid of our every-day tasks. In fantasy, I want more than this, I want to read about magic that dispatches the orcs, the goblins, and the pompous prick who gets his just deserts.

2. The characters. Fantasy characters come alive. They can be not only hilarious, but the toughest of the tough, the baddest of the bad, the...you get what I mean. They're not afraid to stand up for themselves, their family, or their friends. They represent the 12 year old in all of us who wants to conquer the world and who suffers from none of the anxieties and fears that many of us have come to know. They represent who we want to be in more ways than just a cool swordsman (or swordswoman).

Moreover, I love the character who just sucks it up, who never complains, who's worked hard to develop his or her talents and don't take nuthin' from no one. I honestly think this has added a lot to my personality because I actually try to be like these people - to work hard and become good at something, however mundane, is a real pleasure for me.

3. Imagination. What's the difference between an author writing fantasy or science fiction and an author writing mainstream fiction? Imagination. A fantasy author creates his or her own world or at least adapts to one not like our own while adhering to rules and history that make it just as real.

4. Travel. See new lands without the cost or the jet lag.

5. Simplicity. Stephen Deas, author of The Adamantine Palace, wrote an article about Fantasy asking "What is it good for?" (You can find it here) He explains that the reason we read fantasy is because it's simple. It may involve a complex world, but many times Fantasy lays it out plain, these are the good guys, these are the bad. In a complex world, sometimes we need something that is just simple.

Going a bit further, I enjoy fantasy because characters have the chance to make the big decisions; to be selfish or sacrifice for a cause. Many times this enters a grey area. Do the ends justify the means? What's more important loyalty and courage or beating out all other opponents?

I haven't been given too many chances to make such monumental decisions, but on a day to day basis, I make decisions that show my character. Reading fantasy helps me to envision who I want to be.

6. Hope. As we discover time and time again, the scullery boy or girl can become king or queen or the most powerful Wizard-King-DragonSlayer-MonsterTamer (went overboard again, sorry). What could we achieve if we just took a risk, started an adventure?

I'm sure I could keep going since it happens to be a favorite subject of mine. :) R. Scott Bakker provides some more enlightened and interesting commentary on this subject at sffworld.com called "Why Fantasy and Why Now?" I recommend checking it out.

What keeps you reading Fantasy and Science Fiction?


Bryce L. said...

I've gotten some good responses on my blog. Already thinking of revisiting this topic. :)

Unknown said...

I read fantasy mainly to escape from the troubles of the world. Not only that but Seoul is loud, reading gives me the opportunity to dig in to a great story and zone out on the things around me.
The only other method I have for relaxing is hitting the old video game console but, reading allows me to stretch out and imaging things in my head and put my own worries on the back burner. It is escapism at its finest. Not only that but once I have completed a book I feel as if I have accomplished something on a personal level and that in some small way I have improved myself personally.

April (BooksandWine) said...

I like fantasy because I feel totally immersed in it. Also, most of the time when I close a fantasy book I feel like cheering - as was the case with Mistborn.

Fabulous post, and I agree with a lot of your points, although I do also read a ton of non-fantasy books, fantasy has always been one of my favorite genres. Also, I love the feeling I get after reading an Arthurian fantasy (Mists of Avalon, The Once and Future King) it's hard to explain it, but let me just say it's a good thing!

Tea and Tomes said...

Fantasy (and to some extent sci-fi, but I'm more of a fantasy person) allows me to escape to lands unknown and undiscovered, or structured lands that appeal to me far more than the real world in which I live. There's always been an element of wish fulfillment when I read fantasy. For a little while when I read, I'm no longer me. I don't have my troubles, my problems, my obligations and responsibilities. Sure, I may have somebody else's and those problems may be much larger than my own piddly little ones, but sometimes I need a break from myself, and stepping into another world gives me that break.

Bryce L. said...

@Tyson - Yeah, video games are great when you really just need to give the brain a rest, but don't cut it when you want to feel accomplished (probably the opposite). I like reading for that reason too, goals are fun, and there are few things better than finishing a book. :)

@April - I love that immersion in a world that's all it's own. I've only read The Once and Future King, but I loved it. I need to check out more Arthurian fantasy. Good idea! :)

@Tea and Tomes - That's a good point and better said than I put it. Wish fulfillment is exactly one of the reasons. I would love to have those magical powers, perspicacity in intrigue, or just to be more bold.

bloggeratf said...

I like your take, especially the anxieties part, very much. The non negative reason I read fantasy is mostly a physical reaction to the lit. Nothing else compares.

Bryce L. said...

@Alec - I just read that and you describe it perfectly. The reason I'm still reading is because I'm looking for those moments. I've found that a ton in the Malazan world, especially Tehol and Bugg scenes. :)

Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

Great points made!

I have to say it took me a long time to find what I loved to read. I fell right into the Fantasy, Sci Fi, and Urban Fantasy categories rather easily. I love them. I started with the escapism of getting away from the real worlds troubles for just a short while. But I have found a great respect for these authors. They create who worlds, people, and rules for many additional areas that some genres don't have to do. And the do it well with an amazing story mixed in.

I am a fan of the sci fi/fantasy world as well.

Bryce L. said...

@Melissa - Thanks! I'm quite a fan myself. :)

ediFanoB said...

I agree with your points. beside these points I read fantasy because it is a strong counterpoint to my work (I'm a programmer).

Bryce L. said...

@ediFanoB - Definitely. I'm studying Law and even though it's a lot of reading, fantasy is actually quite the counterpoint as well. Law is technical analysis and rule finding, fantasy reading is fun and whimsical.

It's a hard line to draw between, "why I read" and "why I read fantasy" and I attempted to keep it to the latter. They're both so inter-related.