In honor of Wyrd and Wonder I’m doing my first kind of discussion post since I rebooted the blog a year and a half ago. Huzzah!
Why I Love Fantasy – A Rambling Essay of Sorts
Fantasy has been my top genre since pretty much, well, forever. And one of the things I love most about it is just how all-encompassing a genre it can be. From serious to silly to grim violence to light-hearted fluff, Fantasy has all those bases covered and more.
I’ll never forget when I was in college (oh, a looooong time ago) my psych 101 professor said that people who read fantasy novels had mental health problems because Fantasy is nothing but escapism. That’s something that always stuck with me because, first of all, wow, what utter bull crap. I mean, yes, there are a ton of people with mental health issues, myself included, but what has that got to do with Fantasy? And what’s wrong with a little escapism now and then? Absolutely nothing. But that’s the thing that really burned me up about that comment, dismissing an entire genre as nothing more than escapism. Fantasy is probably the richest and most varied genre out there. Sure, some of it is escapism, and that’s fine, but it’s not all just escapism. People that try to pigeon hole Fantasy into just one thing, like it’s all LotR or Harry Potter, don’t have any understanding of the depth of the genre and what all it has to offer.
Fantasy has to have so many subgenres just because there is so much that fits under its umbrella. The only thing you need to be Fantasy is a touch of the fantastic–a made up world, or magic, or fantastic creatures, etc. So, if I’m in the mood for something more romantic, I may pick up a book by J. Kathleen Cheney or Stephanie Burgis. Or, I’m in the mood for something that will make me laugh out loud at the truth of the world, well, Pratchett has me covered. If I want something a little more literary I can pick up some Guy Gavriel Kay or even dip into Magical Realism (I loved Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, for example). When I’m looking for some truly epic saga I may pick up another book of Malazan Book of the Fallen by Erikson or the next in the Realm of the Elderlings by Hobb. Or on a slightly smaller scale but just as epic, the Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty. Oh! And if I want some mystery? Well, most of urban fantasy has me covered. Although, honestly these days, I’ve been in the mood for more hopeful tales, such as The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison and the Heartstriker books by Rachel Aaron.
Anything I’m in the mood for I can pretty much find in Fantasy because it blends so easily with other genres. When people wonder why I don’t read much outside of the genre, well, I’m not ONLY reading Fantasy, am I? I mean, I just read a cozy mystery that also happens to feature vampires (and knitting!)! And right now I’m reading a fantasy of manners book set in early 19th century England that features a young woman trying to sort through a magical library she’s recently inherited. My favorites are when it’s a blend of several genres–fantasy, mystery, and romance usually go together really well!
I also, in the last few years, have discovered that I love weird stuff. Books that have truly weird things happening with little explanation, well, those make me think because the weirdness often stands out. I love trying to figure out what does it mean, this strangeness apart from everything else. I mentioned Winter’s Tale earlier, but also books like The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. That book was weird and pretty dark and I loved every minute of reading it. Or more recently The Book of Hidden Things by Francesco Dimitri–what a strange tale. You never even really find out if there IS anything fantastical happening in that book, everything is left up to the reader. When that’s done right, well, it’s such a great experience as a reader.
The only thing all these books have in common is their own answer to the question ‘what if…’. But that’s what I love so much about Fantasy! You can ask infinite questions of ‘what if…’ and even with the same exact ‘what if’ question there can be various answers. The possibilities are endless. And that’s what will keep me coming back to Fantasy again and again–the possibilities, the creativity, the passion for exploring everything this genre has to offer.
So, other readers of Fantasy, why do you love this genre? Leave me a note in the comments, I’d love to chat!