Other than a mystery genre based reading contest in the third grade, I’ve been a solid fantasy and science fiction fan for most of my life. The bulk of my teenage years were stuffed with book after book, sometimes reading two or three books at the same time. I am immensely grateful for these authors who spent the time to develop and craft these novels for my (and everyone else’s) pleasure. Their stories have stayed with me decades after, and through occasional re-readings and fond remembrances of the stories within.
Although it’s strange to me, I tend to write science fiction and read epic and high fantasy. I am not sure why this is so – perhaps because we’re living in an age of science fiction – a time where what was once fiction is now fact. In any case, since I read much more fantasy, I will focus this post on that genre, though both science fiction and fantasy are similar. Perhaps I will write a post in the future on why I am grateful for science fiction and the benefits of it.
The first way that I am grateful for fantasy novels is that the heroes depend on their own skills and inner strength to accomplish the tasks set before them. While it is true that magic often exists (but not in every case), it is usually an aid to the heroes and not an all-powerful savior. Even with a magic system in place, it is still the protagonists that must develop their skills and wield it to the best of their abilities. It is a tool that the characters use to accomplish their goals and not magic that is the master. It is interesting to note though, that there are many stories where the villains are the slaves of magic or some other powerful force that they are using to defeat the heroes.
The second way that I am grateful for fantasy novels is that – at least with the sub-genre of high fantasy – good and evil are clearly defined. While there are epic fantasy series that are dark and gritty, it seems that most of the sub-genre has a clear-cut morality to it. Contrast this to other sub-genres of fantasy, such as urban fantasy where the characters live in world of gray and a shade of moral relativism. Some people might say that this more like the world we live in now, but I think that this is a result of personal pain and loss. Good and evil do exist and there is a strong appeal to stories that reflect this.
One of the great things about high (and most epic fantasy) is that good and evil are apparent and choosing one or the other has definite consequences. I consider this to be an aspect of the writing adage of cause and effect sometimes known as Chekhov’s Gun. Chekhov said that if a gun is hanging on a wall in the first act, it needs to go off by the third. In this case, good and evil are major aspects of these sub-genres, and as such have real consequences in the world and to the characters that live in them. Intentions matter and actions have consequences – just as they do in the real world.
The third way that I am grateful for fantasy novels is that the characters often face great adversity, suffering from greater pain and sacrifice than most people face in their daily lives. It is true that other sub-genres of fantasy and all genres in general deal with these issues, high and epic fantasy tends to deal with them on a larger scale. That is to say, the stakes (or the risks) involved are much greater and the burdens laid upon the hero or heroes is much more intense because of it. Personally, it shows me that my own issues are much smaller by comparison and more manageable. Although it is a work of fiction, it does give me a sense of perspective and I am grateful for that.
Perhaps the greatest reason that I am grateful for these sub-genres is that the struggle matters and that the protagonists have the seeds of victory within them, no matter how daunting their foes. I think that this is true in our own lives as well.