Karthik L Says:
In the typical essay style let me start off by defining the fantasy genre. If one were to think about genres of fiction, they are defined either by the theme or settings. Science fiction, historic and fantasy are genres defined by settings while crime, thriller, romance, horror, humor are defined by the theme or the predominant mood created by the theme. So actually any story of the former genres can actually also belong to one of the later genres depending on what the theme and predominant mood is. But if one were to associate a mood with fantasy, science fiction and historic genres, it would be intrigue and wonder. Any non-contemporary settings or contemporary settings in a foreign land are bound to be a voyage of exploration.
So why set a story in an imaginary world, when we can set the story in our own world that we are so familiar with? One answer is obviously the sense of exploration and discovery one experiences when the mind takes a journey through a completely unknown world. Then there are some experiences one can’t have due to the constraints of nature’s laws, technological development of our times or our physical abilities. One gets an opportunity to explore all these in the world of fantasy. All these are for those who seek to go on a flight of fantasy – the natural reader base for fantasy fiction. But what is in it for the rest?
Consider the people who like romance, crime and thrillers - all these kinds of stories can very well be written in fantasy settings as in contemporary settings. One may not realize this though if one were to look at the more popular fantasy fiction for adults as they are mostly about court intrigue and battles. Adventure stories are likely to be more popular in the children’s segment. But it is possible to find the other genres as well. Joseph Delaney’s Spook series for instance can be classified under horror genre. Jack Vance’s Many Worlds of Magnus Ridolph is more a detective series. Isaas Asimov’s ‘End of Eternity’ and ‘Stars like Dust’ can be called romance. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Series and Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker series are out and out laughter riots.
Moving on to people who like serious literature, would they discount the literary value of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels or John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress? They all have made powerful use of fantasy settings to explore specific aspects of the human condition. Taking stories away from real places, time and people helps people disassociate themselves with personal feelings associated with these and dispassionately think in an abstract, rational manner about specific aspects of life. Many of the main stream fantasy such as ‘Malazan book of the Fallen’ and ‘Dune’ also have deep philosophical themes embedded in them that a reader of literary fiction may appreciate.
Last but not the least what is in it for the nonfiction reader? Well the fantasy worlds in most epic fiction have all the elements in the real world – economy, science, societies, politics and laws. So the stories can be viewed as a simulation of the interplay of these factors and scenario analysis. In a real world stories, we take many of the things for granted. But in fantasy, the author has to closely examine the interconnection between these factors, come up with a workable model and use it consistently throughout the story. So the stories can provide an intellectual pleasure as well as conceptual insights into the workings of our world.
So what is not there in fantasy and who will not like it. People who are bound by constraints of reality and do not want to come out of their comfort zone may not be able to appreciate these flights of fantasy. Factual information about real people, places and events is another thing one may not find in fantasy fiction. Other than that fantasy fiction is much more than Harry Potter and has something for everyone.