Sometimes, you need to just get away. Sometimes, you crave adventure without the constraints of practicality or nature’s laws. Sometimes, you need the impossible to be possible. Sometimes, you need fantasy fiction.
Fantasy is a genre which seems to be frequented by some and completely untouched by others. I think that there can be stereotypes of the “geeks” who pore over fantasy novels and have no social life, and there are those who have never even tried the genre.
A distinction ought to be made between good and, I hate to say it, bad fantasy. This is the case with all genres, and thus the genre cannot be disparaged because of a few authors who disgrace their own names by attempting fantasy and giving us nonsense. As a lover of many different genres of literature, I have a deep appreciation for good fantasy, which has mostly been carved out in my book-loving soul by J.R.R. Tolkien and Brandon Sanderson. These two authors take me to new worlds and have opened up my eyes to new realities.
What’s so great about fantasy? We could be here all day, but to start out I think it’s worth mentioning that both Tolkien and Sanderson are experts at creating believable worlds, which truly come to life in the mind of their readers. Especially with today’s postmodern and post-Christian culture, it’s refreshing to experience something completely different yet real.
In each of Sanderson’s novels (and he is one of the most prolific upcoming authors I have the privilege of reading), he weaves an elaborate world, mapped out in detail, with a unique and complex system of magic, which includes precise and well-thought-out explanations of exactly how this system works. Every time, it makes sense with the world of that story in a way that will never cease to impress me.
Both Tolkien and Sanderson’s characters are living somewhere out there where they stepped off the page, I’m sure of it. Otherwise, how could I see them in my mind’s eye and become so attached to their life stories? None of them are faultless, and more often than not, Sanderson’s characters have serious internal struggles to accompany their violent or heartbreaking pasts. Never did I think I could be rooting for a liar turned spy, a serial killer or a an unapologetically callous warrior.
When I delve into one of these novels, whether simply to hear a story or to escape from reality, I come face-to-face with myself and those I know. Through creating an alternate world, both authors can show us things about our own world and ourselves which we might easily reject if we saw it in a contemporary setting or were told outright. The corruption of the kingdom’s government or the quest to set men free from their lust for power entertain us, but they deliver an imperative message which we might not hear otherwise.
The genius of fantasy lies in a story which makes us more deeply encounter our own reality. Perhaps we go there to escape, and we certainly do for a time. But our response to what we read is just as crucial. Those who miss fantasy miss out on a chance to encounter themselves, and in turn encounter their own world.
In fantasy, I have found portals to locations that I can only dream of visiting here on earth. I have also found portals to my own soul and the very soul of our broken world. Fantasy will not save the world, even if my favorite characters save their own worlds. Dostoevsky says, “Beauty will save the world.” And this beauty is found in ourselves. But we find ourselves in fantasy.