Mark Chadbourn said that the more rational the world gets, the more we demand the irrational in our fiction. In my view, this is absolutely right. In a world of cold numbers and hard facts, worlds of Elves, wizards and, dare I say it, even vampires allow the human mind to sink into another fantastical, far-fetched world far away from the ‘nine ‘til five’ culture of reality.
‘A totally unmystical world would be a world totally blind and insane.’ – Aldous Huxley
Tolkien’s The Hobbit was my first adventure into the realm of fantasy, and I opened the book with an excited anticipation: the blurb and the cover illustrations promised magic, mystery and something altogether different: fantasy. Soon after I dipped my toe into the refreshing pool of fantasy, I plunged in, buffeted by the wars of The Lord of the Rings and immersed in the magic of His Dark Materials.
Few other genres can present a world so different to our own, and yet embrace you in this world as if you were part of it. You find yourself mourning for the deaths of Hippogriffs; worrying over the future of Middle Earth; and excited by the prospect of an epic quest to defeat a seemingly undefeatable adversary. Soon enough, my bookshelf was dominated by the genre.
Since the 1970s, with the second coming of The Lord of the Rings with a new paperback edition by Allen and Unwin, the genre has been pushed back into motion, and new, imaginative pioneers have come up with even more far-fetched worlds to present to the bewildered and amazed reader. Now fantasy is the biggest genre in publishing, and authors such as Phillip Pullman and Terry Pratchett have forced us to empathise with unnoticed Nomes and Armoured Bears.
As the world gets more rational and logical, dominated by science and technology, the more we need to escape into inprobable fiction.
Non-readers may suggest that fantasy is simply a childish play of swords and sorcery or immature battles between elves and dragons. Undeniably, there are shelves filled with this. However, the genre is much more than that: it starts at the point where fact ends; it is as broad as the boundaries of human imagination.
The genre uses symbolism and allegory to subtlety present our modern society. Therefore, fantasy is fantastic: it is open to all, from those who crave a well-written adventure story to sink into, as well as academic readers wishing to unlock the complex nuances of a good narrative.
Fantasy presents things beyond the every-day: parallel universes; distance, far-fetched lands; alternate histories. Not only do these allow for relaxed escapism, but also reflections on our everyday lives. It has the ability to take many of us away from our world of bland commutes and sitting at the computer (to steal the worlds of Mark Newton), and ‘offer[s] a chance to break out of mundane moments.’
The genre of Beowulf and The Iliad is, indeed, worthy of the most intellectual academia. The genre presents irrational worlds of gods and monsters, but this does not make it less worthy. If anything, it expands the boundaries of human creativity, allowing it to encompass much more than the real world could hope to achieve.