I’ve been writing about fantasy a lot lately. There’s a reason. I keep running into it and I can’t get enough of it. Fantasy is for everyone. No matter where you are in your life, what you do in your day job, or if you work for yourself. Fantasy is part of the human tradition. We have used fantasy to explain ourselves, explore ourselves and teach ourselves since history was recorded. Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, explained the difficulty of knowing reality by telling a fantastic story of dreaming of being a butterfly, waking as a human and having no proof that he was not a butterfly dreaming of being human. Beautiful, isn’t it? And we still struggle with the concept of what is true reality today. Ever had a very realistic dream? A straight story would not explain so perfectly this idea. We need fantasy.
The first novels in some significant written tradition have been fantastic. The Tale of Genji in Japanese, not only was written by a woman using her native tongue instead of Chinese like her male counterparts would have used at the time, but was also a fantastical rendering of the court life in which she was surrounded, including disembodied spirits and dreams. The fantastic elements allowed her to explore her characters in ways that a straight realistic telling would never have allowed.
Homer’s epic poems in Greek were fantastic accounts of significant historical events that have weathered history to be loved and repeated today. Dante’s Inferno was not only a groundbreaking departure from the use of the written word, departing from Latin to use the vulgar vernacular of prototype Italian, but it also use fantastic elements in a religious sense to criticize the rulers and traditions of the time in a way that he could not have written out in a pamphlet. Later, Gulliver’s Travelers used the fantastic elements of Gulliver’s journey to point out the issues of the day in 16th century England.
Fantasy speaks to us. It explores us even as we explore it. It opens out eyes and gives us the mirror to see ourselves and the world around us. As long as we tell stories, we’ll be telling fantasies.
So next time someone says, “Oh, just a fantasy?”, grin and say yes. It’s the oldest genre around with a rich history and even richer possibilities. Enjoy it, shamelessly. I’m not saying force me to like sparkling vampires. Personally I like mine dark and making depressed music with Queen of Damned but there’s enough room here for everyone.