The Lit Maven

A Look At Fantasy

Posted on: June 4, 2014

JinniI’ve always prided myself on my knowledge of books. I’ve never balked at offering my opinion about particular authors or titles that I’ve read – even if I haven’t been asked for it. One of the genres of literature that I’ve read as a guilty pleasure over the years has been fantasy. Often clumped together with science fiction, fantasy novels highlight the impossible. Science fiction, with its base in science and technology, is possible, but most times not probable. While flying around space visiting different planets may be fun to dream about, the chances of me building a rocket to do so is a stretch. Fantasy is the one genre that has its origins in the ancient world. Think of myths and legends – Hercules, Zeus and his family of wrathful/loving/boisterous gods and goddesses, Pandora, Medusa, Finn MacCool, Sir Gawain. Every culture has had fantasy literature whether it is oral or written, told by storytellers or read in books. In today’s reading world, fantasy has become a cultist magnet. George Martin’s Game of Thrones, Stephenie Mayer’s Twilight series, Coraline by Neal Gaiman, J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter and, of course, Tolkein’s legendary Lord of the Rings series among many others have become best sellers, films and TV shows. But, what IS fantasy – and should I be embarrassed to admit that I like it? A fantasy novel contains unrealistic elements like magic and wizardry; it caters to the supernatural. It celebrates what is outside the norm and, while we read from a distance, we are drawn into the fantasy writer’s world. Fantasy revolves around things that do not exist or are not real (ogres, genies, unicorns, mermaids). But it focuses not just on unrealistic characters, but on unrealistic settings and themes. Think of Star Trek vs. Game of Thrones. Space travel and visiting other planets? Possible. Seven kingdoms fighting for a drop-dead ugly throne made out of swords? Impossible.
As Hugo and Nebula Award winner, Robert J. Sawyer says, “Succinctly: there’s discontinuity between our reality and fantasy; there’s continuity between our reality and science fiction”. Many fantasy novels are parts of series – think Hunger Games or Harry Potter. If you’ve gone through the trouble of creating a world, why not use it a few times? Adults as well as children enjoy fantasy. Who doesn’t like talking animals, inanimate objects coming to life, worlds where we are giants – or the size of ants? I’d like to try to train a dragon, meet a genie or climb up a beanstalk to see what’s at the top.

Favorite single volumes:
The engrossing and lovely The Golem and The Jinni
Harry Potter for adults Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
The beautifully magical The Night Circus
The now classic Watership Down
The passionate and haunting The Graveyard Book
The juvenile and funny Half-Magic

I like fantasy novels because I can immerse myself in them, but I also like fairy and folk tales (Native American and Asian are the best!). Most of these feature fantasy themes – witches, spells, curses, changelings, monsters. But, don’t take my word for it! Explore yourself. Take a look at some of the best fantasy books and folk and fairy tales out there.

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