In May 2008, a writer friend, Merc, posted an article titled Throwing Down the Gauntlet. I read it, and immediately knew I needed to respond to it – but it took me three months to figure out how.
See, Merc’s challenge was to explain why you like the genres that you like. It’s so easy to get caught up with what you don’t like about a genre – and it’s much easier, too. I can list a squillion things I don’t like about fantasy off the top of my head. It’s taken me three months to find a satisfactory answer to why I do like it.
And of course, I figured it out when I was penless, and the words were Perfect and Right. And now that I come to write this, I can’t remember them. I hope you’ll forgive any awkward moments 🙂
It’s quite a controversial word, really. People tend to either love it or hate it, and it’s part of that oft-scorned cluster known as ‘genre fiction’. As in, ‘not literary fiction’. As in, ‘not real fiction’ – not real writing.
We who live in these Other Worlds, of course, know better – but how do we convince the masses that fantasy is not ‘just escapism’, it’s not unreality, it’s real, and it’s concrete, and it’s meaningful?*
This was a discussion I had on Friday night with my husband. He’s extremely supportive of my writing, but like so many people I know exists in a state of puzzled bemusement regarding the fantasy aspect.
I hit on it during the discussion though, and I’ve mentioned it above. Look hard.
Did you find it?
It’s one little word: concrete.
Fantasy takes all our fears, our desires, our hopes and dreams – and it makes them real. Concrete.
You’re terrified of the dark? In Fantasyland, it can kill you.
You long more than anything to be known as a brave hero? In Fantasyland, you have dragons to kill, maidens to rescue, and evil to overthrow.
There’s another key concept: evil.
Most of you who know me well will know I’m religious; those of you that don’t, well, now you know too 🙂 As a part of that, I believe whole-heartedly in the battle between good and evil – and nowhere can it be more concretely demonstrated that in fantasy.
In ‘real life’, evil is (given a majority consensus) murder, rape, abuse, corporate greed and so forth. In fantasy, it can be those things too – but the stakes are higher.
A man murders others in order to preserve his own life? How about a man murders others, rips his soul apart and stashes it around the world to preserve his own life…
A person manipulates others to get what they want? How about a person takes control of other people, leaving them with no will, no thoughts of their own – or at least no way to utilise them…
You see, in fantasy, you have magic. And magic is power. And power means that the stakes are much, much higher.
Because with greater power comes greater responsibility.
In this world, we can fight evil. In fantasy, we Fight it.
As Holly Lisle puts it, we’re designed to fight monsters. Our subconscious knows it. And if we don’t give it big monsters to fight, it will make big monsters out of little ones.
Fantasy reminds us that there are big monsters, that our little ones here at home really are little in the context of the world, and that there are bigger things, more important things to fight for.
And that is why I like fantasy.