Sunday, January 21, 2007

Take me to another world

This week's Sunday Scribblings asks why I love fantasy. At first, I thought I'd skip this week's entry because when I'm in the bookstore, fantasy isn't the section where you'll usually find me. Then I thought about it a little longer.

As a preteen and teen, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov were among my favorite writers. There are times I still have a craving for Steven King. Diana Gabaldon's time travelling romance series beginning with Outlander occupies a place of pride on my desk. As do the Harry Potter books. I've been drawn into alternative history books. Its title escapes me now, but I remember reading one in particular that had apartheid era South African whites supplying the Confederacy with Uzis and other automated weapons by means of time travel and stolen gold. It sounds outlandish, but it was actually a pretty good read that looked at the possible consequences of our Civil War from a global perspective. (What is the title of that book? It's going to drive me crazy!) I've read almost everything by Anne Rice. I loved The DaVinci Code and Angels & Demons by Dan Brown, and what are they, if not fantasies inspired by myths and snippets of unproven history. In fact, the reading I'd picked out for my week abandoned, I just finished The Book of Names, an end of the world fantasy that includes Kabbalah, the breastplate of Aaron, gnosticism and a kidnapped child. (Fun, easy reading escapist adventure.) I honestly think that fairy tales drew me into fantasy, the sweetly sanitized Disney versions at first, and then as I could read them for myself, the darker Grimm tales. It appeared on slightly deeper thought, that fantasy and I had gone way back.

So,what is the draw? I think that first and foremost, it's the imagination. In fantasy, as in no other genre of writing, one creates a world. We are unbound by time, by place, by personal history, by the very laws of physics. There is a freedom in fantasy that inspires me. There is a sense of play that shines through even the darkest scenarios, you know the ones, when the world is about to be destroyed or turned into some nightmarish existence by some incredibly powerful being that seems indestructible.

Beyond that, in really good fantasy, we learn about human character. Our psychological archetypes are drawn from myths and fantasies. We seek and see ourselves in the heroes and villains as they undertake battles we never need to. Their choices and reactions, despite the lavish, exotic, incredible world they're in, are still ones driven by human emotions and thoughts. Isn't part of the appeal of Harry Potter that despite being The Boy Who Lived, he's still just a kid who worries about asking a girl out on a date, gets jealous over a friend's awards and has to put up with a crazy family? This juxtaposition of every day human traits against an imaginative world makes each more fun.

There is part of me who would love to be a literary and intellectual snob who would disdain Steven King and be bored by Harry Potter, but there's a much bigger part of me that still reads with the pleasure and simplicity of a child who likes to dream. This is the part of me that turned me into a reader, and I won't disrespect that aspect of myself or the books which nurture it. I'm glad that my tastes in literature aren't limited to fantasy, but it has an important and loved part of my library.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Gannet Girl said...

Cynthia, I can't seem to email you. Please come to the party at my blog!

January 22, 2007 11:47 AM  
Blogger Bridget M said...

I think it was Stephen King himself who said something about his writing being not filet mignon, "just pastrami. But sometimes you really do crave pastrami."

All writing has a place in expanding our understanding of ourselves, our world, or even just of the writer. Just as all ingredients have a role in creating a delicious meal.

And isn't lowbrow the new highbrow?

January 22, 2007 12:46 PM  
Blogger Suzy said...

Hello. I just sidled over to your blog from The Quaker Agitator. Did you ever read any Terry Pratchett? He's my favorite fantasy writer.

Ah, Diana Gabaldon. I made the mistake of giving Outlander to my husband to read thinking he'd like the time travel aspects of the book. He focused on all the wrong things (heaving breasts, etc.) and teases me mercilessly for reading her books. I still like them!

January 23, 2007 4:54 PM  
Blogger Crafty Green Poet said...

I don't read much fantasy fiction. Like you I like it for the way that human traits are set against an imaginative world. My partner nreads nothing but fantasy...

January 26, 2007 2:32 AM  

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