The blog song today is All the Pretty Girls by Kaleo, an Icelandic band and one who’s album, A/B, knocked my socks off. This was both for the range they exhibited in their music and the enjoyable way I couldn’t get their songs out of my head.
I’ll start by saying I was really touched by the reaction I got from the last post in which I shared a letter I wrote the Lady Holly for our seven year anniversary. Not only were lovely things said here and on facebook, but Holly and I received some private messages as well that made us feel warm and fuzzy and special; so thank you to everyone. I believe that the best writing comes from sharing the real and vulnerable parts of yourself, and it was incredibly nice to have that validated in such a strong way. Again, thank you.
I want to tell you what fantasy stories mean to me.
I grew up on a heavy dose of fantasy novels. This is due to my Mum, I’m sure. Dad’s not much of one for anything too fantastical while Mum will ingest a good fantasy book with the speed of someone worried it’s about to expire. This appetite for the fantastic might very well be located on her X chromosome as I and my two brothers, Matthew and Jonathan, all share a love of fantasy similar to hers.
Mum first introduced us to fantasy through the world of Narnia, which I have to presume was the first fantasy story I read (or had read to me). She then passed along her much read copy of The Hobbit, and had The Lord of the Rings waiting for us in the wings once we were ready. However, it was when my brothers and I discovered our high school library that our love of fantasy was truly cemented. Matthew and Jonathan started with The Davids, Gemmell and Eddings respectively, while I started with Raymond E. Feist and a boy called Pug. We devoured whole series of books then traded them to one another, each desperate for the other to finish so we could discuss the wonders of what we had discovered. It didn’t take long for fantasy books to become a staple present option anytime a birthday or Christmas rolled around, and still is as fantasy remains a constant part of our literary diet. I remember hurriedly getting ready for school to allow myself as much time as possible to read in the mornings, then rushing home desperate to climb back into those fantasy worlds for the rest of my afternoon. Half my adolescence was spent here on Earth and half was spent exploring the lands of Midkemia, Mallorea, the Drenai Empire, and numerous other worlds only found through the combination of imagination and a hand drawn map located somewhere near the front of each book.
Growing up and having a love of fantasy I did come to sense that there was a stigma involved from non-fantasy readers. This has lessened in recent years as fantasy, sci-fi, and all things “nerd” have become more mainstream, but occasionally I feel that stigma again. Mostly, I think it comes from ignorance. People hear fantasy, think of sword and sorcery, and believe the books to be pure escapism with no substance; which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yes, they are undoubtedly a form of escapism, something I see as a pro not a con (and arguably also true of all fiction), but to think they don’t contain the same substance as other fiction is incorrect. I was discussing this with Brother Jonathan this morning (his evening thanks to the London/Melbourne time difference – technically we spoke a day apart, he from the past of the 27th of February and me from the future of the 28th), and he pointed out that all fantasy is purely allegory for our own society; which I think hits the nail squarely on the head. Fantasy is a lense through which we are able to study our own world, one that permits the exploration of ideas and opinions through non-existant examples. Anyone who’s ever read a Discworld novel knows how well this can work. In fact, it’s for this reason that I love fantasy. It has allowed me to relate to the world around me by visiting ones made up. Not only that but since writing requires you to draw from your own thoughts, experiences, and knowledge it becomes impossible for writers to not imbue their tales with relevant conflict and relatable characters; even if they do happen to be an orc.
Then there’s the other level to fantasy that I love, the imagination. The dreaming up of people, and places, and magic systems that don’t exist; and then the exploration of those ideas. Fantasy comes down to one thing, asking ‘What if?’ What if you got a letter inviting you to attend a secret school where people could cast spells? What if you were able to ingest small bits of metal then burn them to perform various abilities? What if there were multiple races of intelligent life? What if those races coexisted within a medieval setting? And what if in this place magic was real? Fantasy is a thought experiment that’s gone out of control in the best possible way. Good fantasy takes these questions of the imagination and pushes them to boundaries never before dreamed of; much in the way science does. It demands a temporary parting from reality and in so doing creates a world that is real, even if it’s just in the collective minds of the author and their readers. To me that is magic.
It’s what makes me keep coming back to fantasy time and time again.
It’s what makes me want to write it.
It is a gift that keeps on giving.
Thank you, Mum.
This was going to be an introduction to a piece of flash fiction I’ve written, but as it’s turned into it’s own thing I’ll save that for next time.