To begin with, Nymeth wrote a most amazing post about why she reads fantasy, here. It really is worth reading. It explains a lot about what I believe about fantasy reading and writing, and why it is worthy to be called literature.
It led me to wonder why we still feel a need to defend ourselves for reading fantasy. It's been 50 years since Lord of the Rings was published, and people who read fantasy are still looked down upon. Why is that? Why do I feel that reading a book with elves on the cover is somehow less than reading an English classic? Because sometimes I do. And I don't like it. Is it the idea that it's escapist literature, as Nymeth says, and so it can't be taken seriously as representing the truth about us? Why do we need fantasy literature?
I believe that we do need fantasy in our lives. I have mentioned on past posts that I think fantasy is retelling myths for us in the modern world. A sub-group of fairy tales and myths, if you like. Those original myths we all grew up on, the world over, how the world was created, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, dragons - at its core, fantasy is about how we imagine the world, and our place in the world. We have always needed fantasy, even if we don't know how to respect it. I think that is because somewhere deep inside we also fear fantasy because it seeks to tell the truth about our lives, about human beings and their potential, no matter what circumstances they find themselves in. Fantasy offers us in all our good and bad in every world possibly imagined. That is part of it's power. We hold a mirror up to ourselves, through fantasy. I think people who are afraid of fantasy, are afraid of imagining how things could be different. As Nymeth says, we are not hobbits, but hobbits are us as they experience war for the first time. The power to imagine ourselves differently, and imagine our lives differently, is the power that any who seek to control a person and society, fears the most.
Also as Nymeth also points out, not all fantasy is good. She says, and I agree, not all books in any type of literature are good, either! Every kind of fiction has its strengths and its weaknesses. One of the worst weaknesses of fantasy is when the writer fails to imagine anything unique to themselves. So they write what's gone before, and the fantasy falls flat. This could be said of every book ever written, of course: if something of the writer finds its way into the book, then it has a seed of genuinesss about it that makes it worth seeking out, even if it's not very good. Fantasy gives us so many hundreds of ways of bringing that genuiness out - all that's needed other than writing talent, is the power to imagine.
So all that being said, maybe next time I'm reading a book with elves on the front cover, I'll think back to their fairy tale origins and when someone rolls their eyes at me for wasting my time over a book like 'that', I'll reply: "This is storytelling at its best! You don't know what you're missing!"
Now, Nymeth didn't cover science fiction and I'd like to say a few words in its defense. Why read science fiction? What does gravity have to do with being human? Well, for one thing, if we didn't have gravity, we'd all be floating in the universe......scratch that, because none of this - life on earth - would exist. That doesn't mean science fiction is as necessary as gravity! Though it makes a fun analogy.....what it does mean is that science fiction is about us in space. "Ooh, boring", the woman clerk, or the neighbor who doesn't read, might say. "Why do you read that stuff?" Well, I read science fiction because I'm curious about the universe, and I really think that one day we can get a ship up long enough to explore the stars. I think we have to, because the earth isn't big enough to contain all that humans can be.
The same ability is needed to imagine us in space, as is needed to imagine alternate worlds as we do in fantasy. Only space is all around us, we can see the stars with our own eyes. Haven't you looked up in the night sky, and just wondered: What's up there? What's it like? How would it be to be able to travel from star to star? Now I know that will lead to somewhat technical discussions about the distance involved and the speed of light and other things that I can't get my mind to grasp. So I confess that I usually skip over the techno stuff. What I like, is imagining us on the space ships, and what happens to us there, because all our problems and all our beliefs and all our good qualities come with us there, too. I like science fiction because it offers us a possible future, many possible futures, as many futures as we can imagine them.
I know fantasy and science fiction isn't everyone's choice of books. But for those of us who love them, I would wish that the rest of the literary world would stop looking down at us, and greet us as equals. Because once we have tamed the earth (and that would learning how to live on here in a way that keeps the earth alive and healthy), the stars will still be waiting to be explored. And where will we look for the ideas on how to get there? You're right. Science fiction. Many of the writers of science fiction have science degrees. So the next time someone sniffs at your rocket-ship covered book, you can tell them, "This is serious well-thought-out science." Or something like that.
And I can't, and I won't, imagine a world without Star Trek!
I do prefer fantasy to science fiction, and I think that both are necessary forms of literature. As necessary as breathing, in fact.
Why do you read fantasy and/or science fiction? How do you celebrate it in your life?