This post is about something deeply personal to me. Fantasy.
Fantasy is something I have loved since I was a child, and it's probably not an exaggeration to say that fantasy novels have been one of the greatest shaping forces in my life. Growing up I greatly preferred roaming Deltora, the Edge, Aloria, Alagaesia and Middle-Earth to anywhere I went in real life, and now that I'm older the love has continued as I explore Westeros and begin to craft my own lands.
George Martin, the man responsible for Westeros, once wrote a short essay entitled 'On Fantasy' that, when I read it, felt a chord being struck in my soul. Here it is in abbreviated form:
"The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real, for a moment at least - that long magic moment before we wake.Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab... Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?
We read fantasy to find the colours again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.They can keep their heaven. When I die, I'd sooner go to Middle-Earth."
In just a few paragraphs Martin has found the heart of why fantasy speaks to me and countless others. Compared to reality, fantasy is a wonderland, despite its dangers. There is a core of escapism to most fantasy enjoyment, and a large part of why I loved it so much as a child was because it allowed me to escape the bleak reality of my social existence.
One of my primary motivations in becoming an author is so I can speak to kids who every day go through what I did, and offer them a means of escape and conciliation. That said, there is another reason.
Many people don't understand the appeal of fantasy, and that's fine. I do pity them, however. For some, they don't see the attraction in immersing yourself in something that is not real, has no relation to everyday experience and no practical benefits. Perhaps their reality has always seemed more preferable to any other. Perhaps they simply haven't tried fantasy yet. Perhaps their minds just don't work that way. These people can be just as happy as those who enjoy the non-real, but not reading is like not listening to music, or never eating gourmet food. You can survive that way, but your life will never be as enriched.
Speaking from experience, fantasy stories serve a purpose beyond escapism. Fantasy is a means of truth-telling. Pre-postmodern fantasy is often criticised for its simplistic, black-and-white morality, but what these stories tell us is that it is good to act in these ways and not others, that anyone no matter how humble can achieve greatness, that all it takes to overthrow great darkness is the courage and love of a few, and that, in the end, good will always triumph. Naive though these views may seem, it is only the people who don't understand fantasy saying that, and they are beliefs that I have carried into my (semi) adult life and am determined to use to make this world a better place. That is the true effect of fantasy, and it is a lesson that needs to be shared.