Elsewhere on the web I mused with a wonderfully engaging community of Fantasy genre aficionados, and the question was proposed as to the appeal of Fantasy, and why it eclipsed all other genres in enjoyment for everyone.
To begin, I postulate that no other genre can prove so uniquely engaging and rewarding. Rich, grandiose characters traversing millennia-spanning narratives of such monolithic scope as to subjugate one’s attention for hours on end and inspire and tantalise the imagination in the most profound and provocative of ways – no other genre does this for me. As a student of history I like seeing the echoes of ages long since past, resurgent atavism, myth-cycles and chiastic structures – and fantasy has all of these in spades. Good fantasy, that which is most compelling and connects on a very deep level, often reveals insights into the nature of the human condition and plays to those universal qualities which we can often gloss over in day to life; a good fantasy book cuts to the heart of the duality of sentient existence, the Apollonine and the Dionysiac, and that most wondrous and at times volatile cornerstone of humanity – our emotions.
On a deeper level we all enjoy stories and learning to varying degrees, didactic, aetiological, or otherwise – and fantasy as a genre has by far the most commanding blend of such critical elements of our own humanity and reflections and delineations thereof as to warrant and engender enjoyment and immersion both. The freedom of the genre too, I think, lends itself to marvels and miracles that nonetheless feel more acceptable and believable in such a setting – consistency. Fiction yes, but in an appropriate context, we can harness the grandeur, fancy, and colour of dreams, and make of them a self-contained reality. It’s not about escapism for me, it’s about enhancing the world I live in, enriching one’s self with knowledge of virtue and vice, or grand struggles and humble origins, of fate and destiny and everything betwixt and between.
Sagas, epics, fables. Fantasy does these so incredibly well that it feels simply a continuation of the ancient, fundamental digressions and campfire musings beneath a starlit sky our ancestors have enjoyed for aeons. The same can be said of any fictional story and genre broadly, but for me Fantasy captures the heart of such story-telling better than any other genre.
The freedom then in such expressions is twofold; in actually composing a work of near-limitless boundaries and sculpting the rules and internal consistency of a world wholly and solely born of one’s own imagination. I’ve read elsewhere that many authors actually find this to be the most daunting stage of crafting a Fantasy work – how big is too big? How fantastic and otherworldly can the elements within actually be? Intriguing questions to consider. The inverse naturally is the joy and inspiration that comes with a blank canvas – for some, it starts as a small, fleeting idea, and all too soon the canvas is an insufficient space for the delineation of the perpetually growing idea.
There are, of course, many appeals in Fantasy literature. Some appreciate the escapism, others enjoy the pathos and rumination of fallen heroes and epic quests for redemption, others the call to adventure, the sense of profound destiny and the machinations of fate. I try to read widely, particularly with non-fiction (history and autobiographies), but I’ve dabbled in crime lit, sci-fi, even one or two romance novels but outside of historical inquiry and Classics, no other genre quite engages me as Fantasy does.