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Why do we read and write fantasy?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Garren Jacobsen, May 19, 2016.

  1. The title says most of it. Why do we read or write fantasy? What is fantasy's purpose? Is it for pure escapism? Or can it go into and deal with the real world in a fantastical way? Where do you fall on the spectrum? I'll offer my own views later but I wanted to start this discussion based on an interesting question raised in the Jodie Foster thread.
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  2. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    So Brave BSA!

    Ok, I'll start.

    For me, I read (and write) and watch films to learn something. I am always interested in seeing the world in a new way. I love a narrator that challenges my world view and makes me see things differently.

    I also love the possibility of "what if"... what if magic really existed in our world? What would that mean? How would things be different? What if that happened to me?

    I get very bored very quickly with books or media that is simply there to entertain. What is the point? I wonder. So what? What is this supposed to mean? If it is sort of shallow then I get bored and move on.

    I think this is why my favorite genre tends to be Magical Realism... my favorite films include:

    Big Fish
    Pan's Lybrynth
    Midnight in Paris

    And in literature I tend to lean towards the literary vs. the commercial:

    Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and Madd Addam
    The Last Unicorn
    American Gods - Neil Gaiman
    The Mists of Avalon
    A Wrinkle In Time
    The Slaughterhouse Five

    among many others.

    I like my fiction to have some meat. Make me think. Make me learn. Expand my horizons. I don't read to escape my world. I read to understand my world.
  3. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

    For me, the magic of fantasy isn't only the fascination and novel images of imagined worlds...it's the ability of the fantastic lens to heighten emotion, beauty, thematic ideals, and character grandeur. To be honest, the heavy fictionalization of the real world to me (as in romance novels or thrillers) seems sometimes dishonest or indulgent. Somehow, removing the story from the context of the real world makes it into a Story, a legend, a fairytale, and everything can be shaped to serve that.

    I am not invested in realism. Aside from the amount needed to make a world feel tangible, to make a character's mind inhabitable. What I am devoted to is the emotion that can be crystallized through characters that are purer and greater than people, scenes that are wilder and more dramatic than life.

    Tolkien had a word for the great joy that descends at the moment when all seems lost: eucatastrophe. To me, this is an even greater feeling than tragedy, and fantasy fiction seems to be the greatest place to find the true eucatastrophe. The triumphant happy ending that comes after great sorrow, suffering, and struggle, that redeems so much of what happened, that makes the whole experience of reading and becoming mired in the fictional world worthwhile. And afterwards you find yourself with the book in your lap, staring out the window, satisfied and yearning at the same time.

    That is certainly my reasoning--not "ours", not a proscription of any sort. Hope it makes sense--I've had plenty of cold medicine today.
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I'm with Nimue. Fantasy is very much escapism for me. I'd argue that this has always been its function, even before it was called fantasy and was simply fantastical stories. When I do want to think deeply, be profoundly moved, learn more about myself and my world, I turn to literature. In a phrase I sometimes use, literature takes me into myself while fantasy takes me out of myself. Obviously this is not a binary condition; there's overlap, but that's the general direction.
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  5. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    For me, reading it and writing it are two different things.

    Reading: I'm done with my critical lit days, been there done that, I read for fun, whatever fun might mean.

    Writing fantasy is a two part answer:

    1- It's what my brain does, even my most real, real world stories contain elements that would plug straight into some sort of fantasy... a western screenplay I wrote could be turned into a fantasy novel, my fantasy novel could be turned into a western, +/- magic, of course.

    2- fantasy to me is a far more interesting and superior vehicle with which to explore reality than realistic fiction... just my opinion, of course, probably related to how my brain seems to function, heh heh..
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  6. We Rise Above

    We Rise Above Dreamer

    I think I read it for escapism, or because it exercises some part of my brain that non-fantasy novels don't touch.

    I write it because that seems to be the way my writing seems to go. It doesn't matter if I'm determined to set a story in the real world - very quickly, during my planning or initial thought process, some odd element will appear and the story will take a turn for the weird or fantastical.

    My friends have pointed out that practically anybody who can write a good romance or detective thriller can sell thousands of books. Sadly, my brain just won't go down those routes, unless the romance involves somebody who's dead/dying and the detective is not from this world...
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  7. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I think that most of all it's the journey to different worlds that does it for me. When the rules are different it opens up for new and interesting opportunities.
    Similar stories and adventures can be told in real-world settings, but there's just not the same sense of wonder to them. In a real world setting, real world rules must be obeyed. The real world comes with so much background and history, and there's only so much that can be changed.
    With reading and writing fantasy you start with a blank slate.

    I really should put some actual thoughts into this kind of rant.
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  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    For me, there's not much difference between imagining life on a fantasy world and imagining what life on another planet in our own universe might be like, or even what a life in a different culture on a different part of our own planet, past or present, would be like. The culture, the thoughts, the technology, the stories I can imagine or experience from another's imagination seem to tell me of possibilities that are actual rather than merely quaint fancy. I read to discover those things, to throw myself into the midst of those things. But for me this isn't any sort of "escape" from my own life, but an extension of my own life. I do suppose that these are vain explorations, in the sense that I am unlikely to ever actually see, up close, those possibilities come to life; but nonetheless, I like that kind of exploration. (And this isn't only an exploration of the strange and unusual potential. It's also a rediscovery of things already common but now found in a surprising new context.)
  9. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Is there something wrong with reading and writing fantasy as an escape from the real world? I don't understand why that keeps coming up. Everyone is drawn to art for different reasons and there's no right or wrong.
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  10. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I'm not sure this is a right or wrong question, or an argument/debate about what's better/worse. It's just interesting to see how people relate to it in different way - and also sometimes how people seem to say roughly the same things, but in very different ways.
  11. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Agreed. I just caught something in the Jodie thread that prompted that question, is all. :)

    EDIT: Back to the OP, Nimue's response is beautiful and spoke right to my heart. Not trying to sound cheesy (prob too late) but that's really how I see books and writing, as my escape into another world, being exposed to other perspectives. I enjoy being romanced by words. Good books can seriously make my knees buckle.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 20, 2016
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  12. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    @ Chesterama, I don't want to derail the thread, but I don't think there is anything wrong with that at all! This is why my husband and I can't watch movies together though lol. For him media is totally for entertainment. He doesn't need a 'spiritual awakening' as he calls it. lol. He wants to forget about real life. He loves Transformers and Super Hero movies. He loves Sci-Fi like Alien and Predator and Star Trek. For him he just wants escapism. I totally get that. That is why there has to be so many genres. Everyone wants something different.
  13. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    But it can be a mixture of reasons, no? I love being entertained by literature but I also like to learn things. I don't think it needs to be one way or another.
  14. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    Of course it can be! I love watching comedies and watched The Hot Chick last night. I don't think anyone has said it has to be one way or the other? I own all the Bridget Jone's Diary books.
    Last edited: May 20, 2016
  15. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    No. I was just adding food for thought is all when what I really should be doing is writing. :D
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  16. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    As a kid in the early 80's, I immersed myself in fantasy books because my friends were into it, and my father is a bibliophile with a huge collection of books. I had the material handy, plus the content and artwork was like candy to me. I was named after Conan the Barbarian, because my father read all the books in the 60's, which I thought was cool. I wanted to be Conan, travel with a sword, fight wizards, drink ale with a tavern wench by my side.

    So for me it was the thrill of pretending to be something better, or the best I could be be. Sports fans do the same thing with their favorite players. I didn't want to be the quarterback, I wanted to be the King of Aquilonia.

    As I became older I still enjoyed fantasy but was more interested in exploring the real world. Besides seeing it for myself, I also delved into travel books and narrative fiction based on real events. I like those because I can be that guy that rode his bike around Australia, or I can imagine tagging along with Hunter S. Thompson in Costa Rica, or jumping down a mountain with Jack Kerouac.

    What keeps me writing is the pleasure I feel at trying to create the best prose possible with my abilities. I want to craft a story that readers will enjoy but I want to do it with good prose. Writing a sentence with emotion, and then rewriting it until it sings gives me great pleasure. To me it feels sensual. I want to be as excellent as I possibly can in all things. Especially writing.

    Crafting an excellent paragraph is like throwing a perfect pass to win a football game. I can't always make it happen, but when I do---Bow Chicka Wow Wow.
  17. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    Because it's becoming harder to find the types of stories I like to read.
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  18. Thank you for all your responses. Let me say that neither answer is, in my estimation, right or wrong. I tried to deliberately frame the question using neutral language. As for myself I read in part to be whisked away into a new world, to read about new powers, and to fill that void Ive had from childhood that can only be filled with wonder. But I also love it when a book can help me to look at myself and my world in a new or different way. And to me the best books can do both.

    I write for similar reasons as to why I read. My first task is to escape and to cause people to escape. But my ultimate goal is to have people see the world and themselves a little bit differently than they did before. Hopefully they see the world as a brighter place full of the same wonder and hope that they had when reading what I wrote.
  19. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    True, but that also makes me envious. In a real-world novel, the author can make cultural references that the fantasy author cannot make. This is especially useful for creating irony or humor, but also for creating pathos. A single word or image can conjure up a whole cloud of emotion. I get jealous, sometimes.
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  20. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    I read stories of various genres because I love to be told a good and entertaining story. I want to meet great characters, see their lives, experience their feelings and remain beside them during the events of the book. Also, if there is a special meaning or message of some kind in the story, it's even better.

    I love reading Fantasy in particular because good Fantasy can transport me to a different world, sometimes I even forget that I am actually just reading a book and I enjoy it much more than other genres. I love to dream that I could have those powers, that I could visit those places, that I could do all of those great things... As others have said before, to me Fantasy is the pleasure of escapism and the celebration of magic and imagination.

    I write Fantasy because I have no other choice, and also I love it.

    When a story comes to me, sometimes there is no real click between us but other times the story just clicks the hell out of me. When that happens, I am cornered: The story is not going to leave me alone until I have told all of it and it's like a very intense relationship between us, like dancing together until the moment when the words The End come... and I can enjoy it like crazy, it's really an incredible thing to do.

    I know that I shall always be telling stories, because without them in my life I would simply go mad. The art and pleasures of Storytelling are that beautiful and important to me: Telling stories is sacred, and I would never be able to abandon it even if I wanted to.

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