The Appeal of Fantasy

What is your favorite genre?  What kind of story inspires you, intrigues you, appeals to you?  Do you seek the spine-tingling screams of Horror?  The alien worlds and high stakes of Science Fiction?  The head-scratching maze of Mystery?  The depth and realism of Historical Fiction?  The pounding pulses and happy endings of Romance?  (If you would like a full list of the main genres and sub-genres of fiction, I highly recommend reading “Writer’s Digest Sub-Genre Descriptions.”)

I think everyone has a favorite genre or kind of book or story that they seek out over the others.  Some people like a wide variety of books while others are very particular about what they read and specialize in only a few types of books.  Some even focus on only one kind.  I don’t think one way is better than the other, although it is good to be at least exposed to other works and genres even if you don’t read them on a regular basis.  My personal area of expertise is the wide-eyed wonder of Fantasy.

In book stores, the realms of Fantasy and Science Fiction are often merged under one general category.  However, I have always viewed them as separate genres.  To paraphrase Orson Scott Card, science fiction is what might be while fantasy is what cannot be.  Sci-fi has rivets and spaceships while fantasy has magic.  I’ve always been more drawn to magic, to the things that never were but still tug at our heartstrings and imaginations.  From the early Grimm and Anderson fairy-tales to the latest Mercedes Lackey and Jim Butcher novels, fantasy has never failed to draw an audience.

There are several reasons why I read fantasy almost to the exclusion of all else.  First, magic is just plain cool.  I mean, come on, wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to shoot fireballs from your fingertips, converse with fairies, and fly through the skies on dragonback?  What about that would not be amazing?  The whole idea of magic is simply fascinating to me, especially since the characters who tend to be the most powerful or important usually start out as a minor nobody.

Second, I am intrigued by the intricate complexity of the magic systems used by different authors.  Granted, in the cheaper more low-brow fantasy (which can still have great stories), the magic systems tend to be “anything can happen at any moment because there are no rules.”  But in more modern fantasies, the magical systems governing the worlds the authors create become very sophisticated.  A great example is the world of The Obsidian Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory.  This series contains not one, but three forms of power:  the highly structured and mathematical High Magick, the amorphous, almost sentient Wildmagic, and the evil Dark Magery used by demons.  Each magic system has its own rules, forms, and prices, plus special exceptions like Kellen the Knight-Mage and Jermayan the Elven-Mage.  Yet each system is not arbitrary allowing anything to happen, thus robbing the story of its drama and impact.  There are specific ways to use each form of magic and part of the appeal is seeing how the characters work within the confines of their respective magical systems.

Third, I like the amount of freedom fantasy gives me, as a writer and a reader.  As a reader, I can go anywhere and see any amalgamation of the familiar combined with the unfamiliar.  Take one of the newest sub-genres in fantasy known as “urban fantasy.”  Urban fantasy combines magic with mystery and film noir, creating a gritty, grounded reality with a wild mixture of the fantastical.  Jim Butcher‘s Dresden Files and Laurell K. Hamilton‘s Anita Blake series are each good examples of this emerging trend in fantasy.  From the winding alleys of Chicago to the rolling plains of Rohan, there are so many places you can go it is unbelievable.  As a writer, I have the freedom to create a world.  An entire world.  As long as I create a self-consistent logic and don’t break my own rules, I can do whatever I want.  The amount of freedom and imagination inherent in fantasy is dizzying.

Fourth, I like how fantasy is an escape from reality.  All fiction mimics reality to a degree, but fantasy allows me to retreat from the daily grind the best.  Heroes are locked in a life-and-death struggle with powerful evil forces over the fate of the world (or their respective nation at least.)  People who seem inconsequential become important.  There are daring rescues, escapes, intrigues and battles.  There is strife and grief, but happy endings, honor, and justice prevail more often than not.  It is so very unlike what I see everyday life.  It gives me a measure of peace and hope seeing that, in that world, at least, things work out.  Evil is punished, good rewarded, and it gives me an ideal to strive towards.

Last, but certainly not least, I like fantasy because of the audience.  From my limited experience, those who read fantasy seem to be more open to new worlds and ideas with greater imaginations that anyone else I’ve spoken to.  They are willing to try out new things, but are also very faithful to the stories and authors they love.  The support they give as fans is overwhelming and very positive.  It lifts my spirits and gives me hope as a fantasy writer.

No genre is better than another or easier or harder to write than the others.  Each have their own strengths and weaknesses, history and fan-base, traditions and tropes.  There really is something for everyone.  For me, fantasy has been, is, and probably always will be my greatest literary lure and companion.  Happy reading!

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