Why We Love Fantasy (and Always Will)
Bookseller Reece Dinn from our Liverpool One shop shares his thoughts on the enduring love for fantasy novels.
Fantasy is more popular now than it has ever been before. Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings films, and most recently Game of Thrones, have all helped propel fantasy into the mainstream. It is no longer the mainstay of geeks and nerds.
What is it about fantasy that makes it so appealing?
People love to believe that the impossible is possible. We are willing to stretch our imaginations beyond the realms of reality if it inspires us, makes us feel better about life and ourselves, or even if it makes us afraid. It is much easier to be afraid of the supernatural than it is to be afraid of, say global warming, or even the threat of people's actions and intentions, regardless of which one is the more likely danger.
Fantasy transports us to worlds where the impossible is possible. Worlds where magic exists. Places of other-worldly creatures and gods. Alien and surreal landscapes barely imaginable. The dangers and perils of these worlds are grand and vast, impending doom a much more inevitable conclusion.
The characters in fantasy fiction can do things we can only dream of. Like Vin in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series, who can effectively fly, has super strength, super senses, can manipulate people's emotions with her powers, and can control metals. She is the definition of kick-ass (as well as being a very interesting and complex character). Or Pug in Raymond E. Feist's Magician, who becomes so adept with magic that he's practically a god. And of course there's JK Rowling's Harry Potter, the wizard and his friends who are the envy of every kid who has ever read the much-loved books.
Who wouldn't want to be these people and see the worlds they live in? Human beings are explorers by nature. Over the course of our history we've spread out across the whole world, making every place we can inhabit our home. One day we'll probably spread out into outer space, colonizing distant planets, creating new civilizations. It is who we are. If there's a place to see we want to see it.
An inherent part of fantasy is the journey. Characters setting off on an amazing journey or quest that'll shape who they are, show them their destiny, and maybe even lead them to do great things. The finest example of this is, of course, J.R.R Tolkien's The Hobbit. The story of a solitary creature who is taken away on an adventure of a lifetime that changes the fundamentals of who he is.
Fantasy is steeped in our own myths, legends and lore. It takes us back to a simpler and mystifying time, where dragons and elves could exist, heroes and villains were more clear cut, where kings and queens were just faceless names to most of the population and religion held the answers to life.
A part of us yearns to go back to a simpler and more magical time, even if in reality we know it wasn't so great. Fantasy allows us to live in these places, at least while we read. We can see our own myths and legends come to life, like in T.H. White's The Once and Future King, which follows the legend of King Arthur. They're a part of who we are, who we were, and who we will become.
Even in the modern world we have our myths and legends. Neil Gaiman's American Gods explores the theme of who the Gods of modern times are, and how they compare/compete with the gods of old.
Fantasy explores the human condition in ways that no other form of fiction can. It puts people in impossible scenarios and shows us who they really are. Frodo inside Mount Doom, holding the One Ring over the lava, wrestling with his inner demons, is maybe the best example of this. In that one moment it reveals to us that everyone is corruptible, it is only a question of time and resistance.
One of the reasons Game of Thrones is so popular is that its characters are highly complex. All of them blur the lines of morality and decency. No one is good or evil, and it is this that we find so appealing. Even Daenerys Tragaryen and Jon Snow have their dark moments. It rings true to the real world, and yet somehow it seems even more powerful when we see it in a fantasy setting.
Fantasy is a part of who we are, whether we want to admit it or not. The world would be a much duller place if we couldn't dream, couldn't imagine places that defy belief. This is why fantasy is so popular and why, most likely, it always will be.
Also, dragons are amazing.
Reece Dinn, Waterstones Liverpool One.