When I attended the Yourword creative writing residency this summer, I met a girl named Kim. She and I became great friends, but a few weeks ago Kim mentioned something, something which got me thinking about the fantasy genre and how it fits within the academic community. She said, "When I first met you, and you said you wrote fantasy, I was worried you were going to be weird and socially awkward. I'm glad you're not!" I can't blame her. There are so many stereotypes surrounding fantasy, it's hard for many people to understand why someone would choose to write genre fiction.
The other day my little sister, who's almost 16, asked her English teacher if she could read The Lord of the Rings as an independent reading book. The teacher responded no, because The Lord of the Rings is fantasy and therefore lacks literary merit. This ticked me off. Just because something's made up, doesn't mean it can't be insightful, philosophical, and deeply rooted in the human experience. I don't write fantasy simply for the pleasure of using strange creatures or magic spells. I write fantasy because it goes back to the beginnings of human civilization, the myths and legends that defined the evolution of culture.
As living creatures, humans are different from other animals. We build cities and have highly organized systems of government. We communicate through language and the written word. But what really separates us, what defines our role as conscious beings, is the ability to create, to contemplate those things we don't fully understand. For me, fantasy is about the exploration of the unknown. I spend all of my life living in the real world. Writing fantasy is a way to answer the questions that don't have concrete answers. It delves into the human imagination, the strange, sometimes twisted workings of the mind, and explores a character's psyche by having them face challenges and tasks which don't exist in our version of reality. By mentally placing myself in such situations, I've gained a deeper understand of myself as a person and the thoughts of my characters. Many of the great fantasy authors use their writing as a catalyst to explore philosophy, religion, and politics. It is a genre of subtle metaphors and moral condundrums. Having read so many wonderful fantasy books, which contain underlying political and social contexts, themes rooted in today's society, and complex, well-developed characters, it is beyond me how an English teacher could condemn an entire genre as being inferior and lacking in terms of literary merit.
Humans don't understand the world. We turn to religion, science, and other explanations in an attempt to ground ourselves, to stave off the panic of not knowing how we came to be or where we'll end up. In a constantly shifting universe, our ability to imagine is the only thing we can be sure of.
Truth is hard to define. But, as humans, I believe fantasy is the closest thing to truth we have.