Having gone through so many weeks of Monday entries, talking about all kinds of literature and sometimes even delving into other forms of the arts, I feel it is quite unpardonable not to devote one entry into an area of literature so mainstream that it permeates into every reader’s life, I daresay. And I talk of the broad genre of fantasy.
Fantasy is often contrasted with reality, and that is also how it gets its definition. What is fantasy is something that does not happen in reality. And yet, quite a number of things do not happen in reality. In fact, fiction itself doesn’t happen in reality as a rule. The idea, however, is that realistic fiction talks about things that could conceivably happen, while fantasy talks about things that cannot possibly be imaginable in the current era the author is writing.
You can see how fantasy can encompass all kinds of things then. It sometimes envelops science fiction, though sci-fi is commonly characterised by stories backed up by scientific theories and logic and discoveries, so they are somewhat based in reality in that sense. Then there is a merger of science fiction and fantasy known as science fantasy, which according to Wikipedia is “a story with mystical elements that are scientifically explainable, or which combines science fiction elements with fantasy elements.” They give examples such as sword-and-planet tales, about adventures on other planets that have Earthlings as protagonists, and also the Dying Earth sub-genre, which sounds to me like a post-apocalyptic, end-of-life kind of state.
And of course there is also a merger between fantasy and reality as well, forming a kind of complex Venn diagram. This one is called contemporary fantasy or magic realism (though some scholars are careful to differentiate the two). And the 2 sub-genres are basically about magical things that happen in a mundane and otherwise normal environment. So we’ve some guy who knows magic, and everyone else on the street is plainly appalled. Realistic reactions to what would happen if someone did know magic, but still fantastical because magic still doesn’t exist in real life, folks!
I won’t go on with all the sub-genres you can find in fantasy, but I’ll talk a bit more about why we enjoy fantasy so much. I think first and foremost that reading fiction is essentially an act of indulging in fantasy. Even if we read a realistic novel, we are still looking at a story that never actually happened. Even if we read a non-fiction book, such as an autobiography, it still has narrative elements in it. It still has a purposive act of arranging ideas and events together in a particular order and structure and breathing meaning into it, and all these are still products of an author’s thought process. It’s like what they say about history, that it is like crafting a narrative. We like reading about things that we cannot witness in real life — and even if it is something that we do witness on a daily basis, the act of reading it in writing somehow makes that event that much more vibrant and interesting. It is this curiosity for the unreal that drives us to read, and fantasy provides all of that in large quantities. Tales of powerful dragons, alternate worlds, dark beings, swordfighting, all these are alternatives to what is going on in our world that spark our imagination and dare us to conceive what we could not have thought of on our own.
Fantasy is indeed a very appealing force.