The following was originally posted at Nicole Basaraba‘s Uni-Verse-City during her Writing in Different Genres series. I was pretty darn excited to be part of it. Here is the article in its entirely, free from commercial interruptions…
Living the Fantasy Life by Sonia G Medeiros
I blame my parents for my
obsession with love of fantasy. As a child, I had what you might politely call an active imagination. I was often in trouble at school for daydreaming (though, really, I had already finished the work…usually). But did my parents act quickly to contain this? Did they enforce the boundaries of reality and the dangers of dwelling in imaginary worlds?
In fact, fueled by their passion for science fiction/fantasy, they fed my taste for the unreal with a steady diet of A Wrinkle in Time, Narnia, King Arthur, Wonder Woman, Conan, Lord of the Rings, Edgar Allen Poe, The Twilight Zone and WWF Wrestling (my dad *shrug*). They encouraged me to tell them my odd little tales and allowed me to pretend that I was a warrior princess from a magical world sadly marooned in this one without my powers.
Okay, okay. It’s not all their fault. They had some help from my grandfather who, while he may outwardly appear all CNN and Sunday Morning, further indulged my growing predilection for the fantastic by charging me with the task of collecting all the alien pods (actually the fruit of the sweetgum tree) from the lawn (a mighty sneaky way of getting the yard cleaned, if you ask me), listening to my sprawling Smurf epics and allowing me to watch The Neverending Story something like 642 times (although I’m sure he never intended me to make a career of all those wild imaginings).
So, there. As you can plainly see I have my parents (and grandfather) to blame for not being able to keep my feet on the ground or my head out of the clouds.
And I thank them for it every day.
Wikipedia neatly defines fantasy as “a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomenon as a primary element of plot, theme or setting” and distinguishes fantasy from two of its closest cousins, science fiction and horror, in that it generally “steers clear of scientific and macabre themes”. Yet, the overlap between fantasy, science fiction and horror is sometimes so great that it may not always be possible to tell where one ends and the next begins.
It seems generally acknowledged that science fiction accepts the natural laws of our universe and so is about stuff that could really happen, fantasy often flagrantly ignores natural laws and is therefore about stuff that couldn’t really happen, and horror could go either way.
I’m sure I don’t have to point out the problem with such a definition.
It’s true that fantasy is full of created worlds where magic reigns, and where there are dragons, wizards, elves, heroes of prophecy, Excaliburs, and kingdoms under siege by Dark Lords. But fantasy isn’t about any of those things as much as it is a way of looking at the world with a childlike openness to Mystery. It does not seek to limit what could be by what is generally considered “real.” The passage to a mystical realm could really be behind that cupboard door, never mind how many times you may have opened it only to find the cereal bowls. Fairies exist even if we never see them. And toys have a secret life.
This openness cuts both ways of course. The child accepts the horrible right along with the delightful. A monster might live in your closet, no matter what your parents say. That passage to another world could leave you stranded there forever. And the world is different in the dark.
Fantasy looks at the world with all the wonder and terror of raw childhood.
While science fiction insists on an explanation and horror is often about what should be unreal intruding on the real world, fantasy allows the world to simply be. What is fantastic isn’t necessarily in violation of the natural laws of the universe or unexplainable but neither is essential to the story (besides, sometimes the real seems at least as implausible as the fantastic…quarks, anybody?). Fantasy is the genre of limitless possibilities and the freedom to explore them, whatever the story consequences.
I love science fiction and horror but fantasy holds the dearest spot in my heart because, like Mulder, I want to believe.
A few fantasy suggestions to tickle your fancy:
- Piers Anthony’s very punny The Magic of Xanth series.
- Patricia Brigg’s urban fantasy Mercy Thompson series (yes, it contains hot werewolves and vampires…but they don’t sparkle).
- Greg Keyes Kingdom of Thorn and Bone series, especially The Briar King.
- Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story. As much as I loved the film version as a kid, the novel is vastly superior in every way.
What is fantasy about to you? What are your favorite fantasy stories, movies or television shows? Bonus question for writers: What inspired the genre you write today?
Image Attribution (In Order of Appearance):
Image via Wikipedia
Pain Inducer (Sweetgum Pod) by Jeff Kubina, on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
Image via Wikipedia