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Why do we read and write fantasy?

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

  1. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    It may be—and I cannot know, because I am not in your mind—that what you and I experience when reading fantasy is quite the same thing, but we have different ways of interpreting or remembering it after we put the book down.

    I do not like the idea of a clean break between entertainment and learning, as some have implied in this discussion. Maybe we split concepts in order to come to a better understanding of them when discussing them; but then the tendency to continue to separate them obscures the reality of our experience.

    Montaigne in his essay "Apology for Raymond Sebond," described two types of skeptic. One believes we can know absolutely nothing—and perversely actually knows this, or is dogmatic about it! The other, which he called the Pyrrhonian, merely suspends judgment and enjoys the chase, the search for knowledge, which must begin with the thought that we are lacking knowledge and would be hindered by any belief that we have actually found it:

    Democritus, having eaten at his table some figs that tasted of honey, immediately began to seek out in his mind whence came this unaccustomed sweetness; and to clear up the matter, he was about to get up from the table to see the situation of the place where these figs had been gathered. His maidservant, having heard the cause of this stir, laughed and told him not to trouble himself about it, for the reason was that she had put them in a vessel where there had been some honey. He was vexed that she had deprived him of this occasion for research and robbed him of matter for curiosity: "Go along," he said to her, "you have made me angry; I will not for all that give up seeking the cause as if it was a natural one." And he willfully sought and found some "true" reason for a false and supposed effect.

    This story of a great and famous philosopher shows us very clearly this passion for study, which keeps us amused in pursuit of things of whose gain we have no hope. Plutarch tells a similar case of someone who did not want to be enlightened about something he was in doubt about, so as not to lose the pleasure of seeking it; like the other who did not want his doctor to rid him of the thirst of the fever, so as not to lose the pleasure of quenching it by drinking....

    Just as in all feeding there is often the pleasure alone, and not all we take that is pleasant is always nutritious and healthful; so what our mind derives from learning does not fail to be voluptuous even though it be neither nourishing nor salutary. ​

    For me, there is that entertainment value, that pleasure, in searching out these various potential realities, as I described in my previous comment, even if my search is often in vain in the sense that I'll not suddenly find myself actually surrounded by all that exists in those fantasy worlds and/or am unable to put into practice or use whatever I find there.

    At the same time, those things like loyalty, love, bravery, dedication, etc., that we can find in the fantasy story are not things I consider to be absent from our own world. Nimue has a point in describing the way that fantasy can allow us to "heighten emotion, beauty, thematic ideals, and character grandeur." But these are not unreal things; they exist in our own world even if we are often blind to this fact. That bit I quoted above describes people who were once alive and breathing in our world, Democritus, his maidservant, Plutarch; and although this might actually be a fictionalized account or idealized account (I, not having lived at that time, cannot know), it describes something fully possible in our own world and at the same time reads almost as if it's a passage from some fantasy novel. Just change the names and have someone else tell it.

    For me, this desire to learn, this entertainment value in that search, is fully possible within our own world, and I can feel myself "transported" within this real world of ours as easily as I can experience that effect by reading a fantasy novel. But I put that word in quotes, just as I put "escape" in quotes earlier, because for me those are figurative descriptions. Maybe the mind is distracted, diverted from contemplating the things around us, in this pursuit of discovery, and that is the "escape" people keep mentioning. But my own mind experiences that sort of thing throughout the day while I am awake, even if I am not reading. Sometimes my mind is on some new exoplanet just discovered, sometimes it's thinking about those two 14-year-old boys lost off the coast of Florida nine months ago or some other dramatic and tragic (or happy, serendipitous) event that happened on our own real Earth. Sometimes it's on the birds I watch, or my cat, or my family doing whatever elsewhere while I'm taking an extra long break at work.
    Last edited: May 21, 2016
    Demesnedenoir and Heliotrope like this.
  2. Necroben

    Necroben Dreamer

    Two quotes that I don't remember who said them.

    "The only person who should really be concerned with escapism, is a jailer."

    "I write fantasy because I can do everything else any genre can, and have dragons."

    That pretty much sums it up for me. I've stuff from romance, westerns, to zombie sci-fi. My true love is the fantastic.
  3. writeshiek33

    writeshiek33 Sage

    for me reading become a type of hunger, i want/need to write as fantasy is mainly hard to explain with the symptoms of dyslexia my creative thoughts and imagination is in overdrive it become very heavily part of my personality man i i now read 3-5 books a week and two at time yeah for most it would get confusing for it seems i have no choice at this point now i my life and when you well read as myself you can't help but to create something it the first thing and last thing i think about
  4. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    I've been thinking about this topic today. My writing is divided between two genres: romance and fantasy. The reason why I write romance is because I enjoy a heartwarming love story and I'm a sucker for anything romantic. I truly get a kick out of writing relationships where characters end up in love or married at the end. Love is beautiful, mystical, and powerful.

    But then there are my fantasy stories. If I'm a sucker for chocolates and champagne, then dragons and elves and magic make my knees buckle. There is no genre like fantasy (except Sci Fic because it's pretty darn awesome). Writing about different worlds, made up races, adventures with witches and vampires and werewolves...sigh. It all does something magical inside of me. Nothing compares to the wonder that is fantasy for me.
  5. bradford177

    bradford177 Dreamer

    I read to escape. I want to fall in love, or become that character. I want to stumble across a magic staff myself, so I am going to read about it and hopefully will it to life!

    Write it? Because it is fun when my mind get's lost in a story that I am inventing, and the ideas keep rolling in. I enjoy getting excited about writing down a new plot idea then adding fantasy to it! It's like spreading icing on a angel food cake! MMMM.
  6. The answer to this question (two questions, actually) will be complicated. I'll do my best to express my thoughts.

    Why i read fantasy? Well, i read in just about every genre. I enjoy a good story no matter the genre. In fact, i'm not sure i read or enjoy fantasy any more than i read and enjoy a book of any genre. Good fantasy is hard to find. (Good writing generally is hard to find, but especially fantasy.) Fantasy engages my imagination and makes me think in ways i have never thought. It takes me t places i could never visit. It gives me experiences that are outside the realm of human existence.

    Why i write fantasy? I have a wild, untamed, vibrant and voracious imagination. A part of me never stopped being a five year old. I'm always asking questions beginning with, "What if?" I'm always preoccupied with the nonexistent. To me, the real world is only a tiny speck in infinite vastness of possibility. I guess you could say i write fantasy because conforming to the rules of any other genre puts unnecessary limitations on my imagination. I mean, in a real world story, you can't have liquid wolves or shirts with wings on them that enable you to fly if you put them on or talking animals or telekinetic powers or dragons that wear spectacles. If i were writing anything other than fantasy, if i wanted to write about these things, i couldn't. And of course i would want to write about these things. I'm always straying outside of what exists and what is proven. I'm always creating something new. The real world seems so painfully narrow compared with all my mind can conceive.

    I believe there is a deeper reason we read and write fantasy, however. Fantasy enables us to explore the deep recesses of human nature. Through writing about an immortal, we explore what it means to be mortal. Through writing about a character who is non-human, we explore what it means to be human. The fantastical nature of fantasy magnifies these themes and aspects of the human existence and enables us to see them more clearly and explore them more thoroughly. The unfamiliarity makes the familiar aspects, those things that are common to all people, those experiences that we all share, larger and more relatable. The themes fantasy often deals with are huge and complex. Good and evil. What it means to be human. Death. Sacrifice. Love. Family. Self-discovery. Fantasy tends to deal with the deepest and most fundamental aspects of humanity. Fantasy characters face their inner darkness, they discover themselves, they sacrifice, they love deeply, and they survive great pain and hardship. This is why fantasy is so widely loved. It is not focused around one aspect of the human experience, like falling in love(romance). It encompasses all of human existence.

    So, dragons and wizards and magic are actually secondary to what fantasy really is, in my opinion.
    LuxMyalis likes this.
  7. Also i'd like to add that theres nothing wrong with using books as an escape. We read to escape from the world, yes. But we come back with new experiences, new perspectives, and new tools to help the world become a better place.
  8. ChasingSuns

    ChasingSuns Sage

    The basic answer for me would be escapism. When I read, I want to really dive into a whole different world and have my imagination experience new things. To me though, any good story will have some kind of subtext that can be related to by the reader. It's what helps us connect with characters and care about the outcome of the story. I write because I have never really felt comfortable in this world. I'm an introvert with loads of social anxiety, so I feel much more at home in fantastic worlds that don't resemble ours much at all. That being said, in my writing I do try to address certain topics and include certain subtext about deeper issues that people experience, because as I said, I think that a good story has at least some level of that.
  9. Ronald T.

    Ronald T. Troubadour

    As an extension of what ShielaW said, I read and write fantasy because I have no other choice. I read and write it because that's who I am. I do so because SF/F give me something no other genres have provided: escape from the real world and the excitement and thrill of being in a magical world where the heroes actually do have the ability to change their worlds.

    I don't read fantasy to think or learn. I already think too much -- sometimes to my emotional detriment. And if I want to learn something, there are far better resources available...resources that are specific to a particular subject.

    I read to escape our world -- a world so filled with antipathy and ignorance that it shames me to acknowledge I'm part of it. I want to be part of a world where heroes exist and can make life better for the entire world. The SF/F genres give me that.

    But what do I know? I'm just a kid.
  10. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

    Fantasy is my drug of choice. I don't drink, smoke, or partake in many other vices. I like looking at awe-inspiring scenery in the real world, but I don't travel much, and reading non-fiction travelogues doesn't do it for me. Books of fiction, especially fantasy, have been what I turn to for inspiration and opening the mind to possibilities beyond mortal ken. It's spiritual for me. Fantasy frees my mind, grants me wings in my dreams and haunts my nightmares. A world without fantasy would have no place for me.
    Ronald T. likes this.
  11. Gribba

    Gribba Troubadour

    I read books in many different genres and I do so depending on my mood and what I want to experience or feel at that given moment.
    But also regarding fantasy, sometimes I read it to escape the real world and sometimes I want to experience something or learn or even be inspired, depending on that, I read different fantasy authors to achieve those things.

    Why I write fantasy: It allows me to take seemingly ordinary characters and put them in extraordinary situations.
    A person with great or even not so great magical power can become a threat that he/she would not be in a world of ordinary rules.
    Also it allows me to explore the growth of a character through feelings, that are brought forth, through so vastly different circumstances, something the real world can not offer.
    I like making my own rules and my own imagination gets to visualize a world the story takes place in, I am not bound by any rule or setting.

    Well said! (plus this, when it comes to why I write fantasy...)
    LuxMyalis likes this.
  12. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    Because real life is boring and real people are boring, most of the time.
  13. What people are you hanging out with? :p People are weird and crazy. I love them for that.
  14. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

    I read and write it because its less constraint from my other favorite topic; historical fiction. The bonus with fantasy is that I can twist things and don't have to be a professor for things to be acceptable to my readers.

    But the main thing is that I essentially prefer things to be light with magic and focused on characters operating in a historical enviroment. You could probably ask why I don't want to write only historical fiction, but I am a huge sucker for original stories and in a historical setting most of the great events have already been decided and we already have the main players squared down. Thus I like the freedom that fantasy provides.
  15. Hazardous27

    Hazardous27 New Member

    We read and write fantasy because its just fantastic.

    Ok. But seriously we love fantasy because its a reflection of our ideals and desires with a bit of magic on top for flavour I think.

    Think about something like Lord of the Rings. Tolkien didn't set out to write allegory of any sort by his own admission but it drips with tropes we (collectively as a society) just love. Little guys standing up to the big baddy who wants to take peoples freedom, the glory of fighting in battle alongside a reliable band of brothers to defend your people, an epic quest where you have to war with your own temptations and push your own limits to benefit everyone (self-sacrifice).

    We love fantasy because its the things we already love and admire in life but with a bit of added spice and shift in context.
    Ronald T. likes this.
  16. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    I've had enough of both for one lifetime.
  17. neodoering

    neodoering Minstrel

    I read fantasy not as an escape but as a way to refresh my imagination and survey the world's cultures and peoples.

    I write fantasy about people you never hear about in most fantasy novels: mentally ill people, people of color, American Indians. I'm tired of reading and will not write yet another faux-medieval European fantasy novel. Been there, done that, don't want to do it again. I look for diversity. Found a page on Goodreads that lists some American Indian fantasies, and I'm going to explore that next. Good stuff!
  18. It's really cool that you're doing this. I too am sick of European based fantasies and wish writers in general would write from a broader range of inspiration. Also, representation of mental illness in books is really important to me. I've said before that what I want most is a badass character who happens to suffer from anxiety and it's just part of her character. It doesn't affect the story any more than her eye color does, it's just a fact of who she is. She has to use coping skills and occasionally wakes up having a panic attack, but other than that she's just a badass dragon rider/pirate/whathaveyou. I REALLY want this.

    Some Native American mythology is super cool to use in a fantasy novel, but I don't see anyone doing it. I don't think I've read anything based on African or Australian Aboriginal cultures either. There's so much opportunity for amazing stories out there that seems untapped...

    You know, they say, write the book you want to read...looks like I've got my work cut out for me... ;)
  19. neodoering

    neodoering Minstrel

    Readers are Conformist

    I agree with you wholeheartedly--write the books you want to read. But if you stray from what's trendy, you are in for a hard fight. Readers seek out what they know and are familiar with, and if they are in the mood to try something different, they look for what's popular. I trained as an anthropologist, and I have favorite cultures I've read widely in, so I have peculiar tastes I like to indulge. I like the Arabs, and I'm deep into the Maya Indians. If you want a fantasy novel about the Maya for free, you'll find it here: http://www.rdoering.com/temples.html. This is an illustrated novel; you can download it chapter by chapter or as one single document. It's always a risk trying something different, but if you don't like it, all you ventured was a little time. And who knows, you might dig it.

    As for the Arabs, there's always the Richard Burton translation of The Arabian Nights, or some abridged editions. Good fantasy stories about monsters, genies, sorcerers, etc. My favorite fantasy story in the work is Ma'aruf the Cobbler, and you can read it for free here: Arabian Nights: Tale 169 - MA’ARUF THE COBBLER AND HIS WIFE.
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2017
  20. Kinzvlle

    Kinzvlle Acolyte

    My signature on another writing forum is a quote by Lloyd Alexander. "Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It`s a way of understanding it." There`s a writer I follow T.A. Barron he`s a conservationist who writes mainly children and young adult fantasy novels with a environmental message and focus on ecology and such in mystical settings. I appreciate his message but what really draws me to him is the writers philosophy he talks about in a video or two on his site. Basically, the idea of using fantasy as a type of fractured lens allowing you to phase certain things out and focus on one thing in a way you couldn`t in other genres.
    Demesnedenoir likes this.

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