Today’s post is written by my intern, Allison O’Neil.
Last week I wrote about the value of nerd-thinking: the genuine desire and love of learning, teaching, and research. This week I want to explore another nerd-related topic very near to my heart.
Fantasy literature (and a lot of sci-fi) are my favorite kind of fiction. While I love a good novel, and do enjoy a well-written read from almost any genre, fantasy books allow a certain kind of involvement which is rare in other kinds of reading. There are many explorations of this topic available in countless formats, but I will here explain the specific value of fantasy literature as I see it.
A key element of most fantasy is the presence of a mission or quest. The main character(s) may or may not be aware of the quest as they begin, but the quest functions to give these characters a purpose in life. They have something to accomplish: usually in an effort to stave off evil, preserve a virtuous element of their world, or perpetuate their peoples’ survival.
These tropes of fantasy must be interpreted in the context of metaphor, otherwise we would only have adventure stories. They are certainly that, but our analysis must go deeper. We, as readers, necessarily identify with the characters as we read a book. As we become attached to characters we like, we experience their turmoil and joy through them. Any book we enjoy contains features we recognize, whether a character, a place, or a feeling.
Not only do characters function to allow us to experience adventure in our armchairs, but the literature itself represents elements of society. This is the key boon of fantasy literature, in my opinion. While other forms of literature are hampered by the desire or need to mimic reality, fantasy and sci-fi largely abandon this aim. That is not to say the observations and criticisms of social structures or patterns aren’t real—quite the opposite. By eliminating the imitative components of other literature forms, fantasy becomes more universal. Through artifice we see what is real.