I am a firm believer that the worlds we explore through the fantasy genre help make us better people in our “real lives”. Contrary to the idea that fantasy only promotes being detached from the real world, my experience has been that fantasy helps me to evolve in all aspects of my life. While I’ve always enjoy the standard fantasy worlds presented in childhood stories, movies, and video games, it wasn’t until I was in the fourth grade that I really fell hard for the fantasy genre. In that school year, I was fortunate enough to have a teacher who read us the entire Chronicles of Narnia series throughout the year. He would do voices and was animated throughout each chapter. Not only did these books cause me to really think about the dilemmas and triumphs of these characters, but it got me excited about how the fantasy genre shifts our way of thinking about the “real” world.
Fantasy allows us to not only see the problems of our world through an alternate lens, it allows us to experience our own problems through a more detached and convenient host. Through seeing these characters struggle and prevail, finally arriving at what Tolkien called the “good catastrophe”, we realize that we too can overcome our own trials.
Whether we feel connected to a character or are utterly repulsed by them, the world of fantasy allows us to walk in the shoes of another person, to see their flaws and take every ounce of their being to heart. While all (good) fiction accomplishes this empathetic world view, it is through fantasy that we are able to truly push beyond the realm of what is comfortable. In the fantasy world, we can experience and imagine circumstances, strengths, and weaknesses that strip away the constant veils we layer ourselves with. When we encounter characters that find a new world or are exposed to powers they didn’t know they possessed, we subconsciously examine ourselves in new ways. We find new ways to see the world and learn that our abilities are often far more diverse than we had perviously imagined.
Fantasy realms allow us to explore the wide spectrum of emotions that we go through in life without restriction. The laws, customs, relationships, and environments are familiar enough to be relatable, yet they are foreign enough that they (gently) force us to view this new realm of existence with the open minded nature of a child. We are eager to be proven wrong when we dislike a character or their actions, we want to see our heroes complete their quest or uncover a mystery so that we too can find new ways to overcome our challenges. These are just a few of the reasons why I am so thankful to the fantasy genre for constantly inspiring me to not only be a more creative and imaginative person, but to be a more empathetic and open minded person as well.
What is your favorite fantasy story? What do you love about the genre? If you’re not a fan, what turns you off from it?
Image Credit: Luis Alejandro Bernal Romero on Flickr