5 Reasons Why Everyone Should Read Fantasy

Rife with magic, nuance and creativity, fantasy gets to completely reimagine what's possible.
December 30, 2018
9 mins read

Fantasy is a captivating genre. From dystopian whirlwinds full of old magic to medieval worlds rife with wizards and warlocks, the genre encapsulates many literary universes, TV wonders and movie plots.

A few days ago I found myself randomly watching an “Epic Rap Battles of History (ERB)” between “Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien and “Game of Thrones” writer George R.R. Martin at 2 a.m.

In the video, a quote by Tolkien stood out: “We all know the world is full of chance and anarchy, so yes it’s true to life for characters to die randomly. But news flash, the genre’s called fantasy. It’s meant to be unrealistic, you myopic manatee.”

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This quote got me thinking about just why I’ve been in love with fantasy since a very young age. As “ERB” Tolkien says, fantasy delves into the beauty beyond reality.  It is a unique genre I believe people should give a chance.

Well, without further ado, here are five reasons fantasy is an enthralling and dynamic genre everyone should try.

1. Complex World Building

The fantastical world building is more expansive and complicated than almost any other genre. Because they aren’t based on reality, fantasy stories must create their own. Be it rival nations who indiscriminately despise each other, magnificent creatures who roam the skies or ancient magic flowing through the protagonist’s veins, the author must not only tell the reader what’s going on in the story, but what came before and sometimes even what comes after. Readers must be provided with a sufficient backstory to properly understand the foreign world, which up until the piece was written only existed within the author’s psyche.

Take the “Harry Potter” series for example. The power of the world J.K. Rowling has created is phenomenal; adults still immerse themselves in a universe they first encountered in childhood. To some, the halls of Hogwarts are just as tangible as those of Princeton. What is Potions but a more fantastical chemistry class; what is Transfiguration but a biology that science has always craved?

The worlds created in fantasy are not only intricate, they are limitless as well, which leads into my next reason.

2. Infinite Potential

Not bound by the constraints of reality, fantasy has the potential to keep expanding and growing in ways people may not have even conceived of yet. There are corners of the real world, but fantasy universes are ever reaching, ever growing, ever evolving. While the two are often conflated, a key difference between science fiction and fantasy is science fiction is based on what is or may be possible within the realms of scientific theory.

Fantasy, on the other hand, isn’t ruled by scientific realities. There are still rules in fantasy as “Now Novel” writes, but in fantasy those rules are created by the author themselves. This allows the writer to continue growing their fantasy world by incorporating fresh elements that still fit within the universe.

Lord of the Rings” is a perfect example. While the Middle-Earth trilogy along with the prequel of “The Hobbit” are now popular icons — having made almost $1 billion for each of the five movies — there are many more elements to the universe Tolkien created. Over 21 separate pieces have been published in Tolkien’s Legendarium, an entire body of work about the Middle-Earth continent Arda.

This is in addition to the numerous other Tolkien works. Tolkien wrote so much and created such a detailed world that since his death in 1917 his son Christopher Tolkien has published over 24 books of his father’s work, one as recent as August 2018. It is unclear when Tolkien will ever stop being published as every time a book is thought to be his last, another one seems to be released. He even created linguistically complex Elfish languages as a part of his worlds.

Unimpeded from the boundaries of reality, fantasy is free to keep adding to itself in novel ways to keep readers on the edges of their seats.

3. Expect the Unexpected

Fantasy possesses a unique dynamism. The elements they can incorporate are limitless, only constrained by the author’s imagination. This means unexpected components are frequent in the genre. Readers can never fully predict what a fantasy piece may include because with infinite potential, unbound by reality, comes infinite possibilities.

One never knows when an unfamiliar race will emerge from the dark recesses of a damp cave, or when archaic magic never before seen in that fantasy world will be revived. Fantasy keeps you both on edge and ensnared in the story as you simultaneously need to find out what comes and cannot truly anticipate what that will be.

Game of Thrones” is one example of such. After being popularized when the fantasy books were made into a TV show in 2011, the series is known for its many shocking and unforeseen developments. From abrupt deaths to sudden emergence of shadows forged by black magic, no one ever knows what is coming next in Game of Thrones.

By incorporating novel aspects, fantasy pushes what you understand to be possible.

4. Mental Expansion

Since fantasy is free to go wherever the author imagines, abundant with components readers may have never even deemed possible, it expands ones conception of reality. Young protagonists whose lives had only been commonplace prior are able to deliver the realm from imminent destruction, even though in real life one cannot imagine them having the fate of the world entrusted to them. Characters can traverse green hills and travel far from home, even though they themselves never thought such could be so. Often they transcend boundaries of race, class, gender and more, even though those constructs may be vastly different in the story.

For me, the paragon of fantasy’s ability to broaden one’s conception of possibilities is Donita K. Paul’s “The Dragon Keeper Chronicles,” which I first read when I was only about 9. The series follows the life of 14-year-old slave Kale Allerion after she discovers a dragon egg. She goes on to become the renowned savior of the land, even though she had been thought of as the lowest of the low. Despite all odds she develops extraordinary skills, such as telepathy, and is constantly saving lives. Allerion even eventually gets married and creates a fulfilling, stimulating life for herself and her family.

“The Dragon Keeper Chronicles” taught me that even if no one believes in me, even if at the time I can’t possibly conceptualize successfully doing something, it can happen. I learned that what I know to be attainable is by no means a concrete limitation on what I am actually capable of. As a young child reader, I realized this was formative in the development of my self-perception and goals.

Fantasy is able to build inventive worlds that blend what readers’ realities with fresh elements they have never envisioned.

5. Blends the Old and New

A unique part of fantasy is that it permits authors to blend the old, what is known within the real world and its history, with the new creations of the author. Even though fantasy is not bound by the constraints of reality, it is often inspired by history. For instance, medieval fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy where stories are set in the medieval world or have key medieval influences. Tyrannical kings, chivalrous knights and an unbalanced feudal system all appear in medieval fantasy. The sub-genre tends to additionally contain mythical entities from European folklore like dragons, elves and fairies.

Fantasy can take these historical concepts and reimagine them, breathing a renewed life into them with the author’s own concoctions. The genre can also include modern aspects and still remaining fantasy rather than science fiction through its ultimate non-adherence to reality’s rules. An excellent illustration of this concept can be found in Terry Brooks’ “Shannara” series.

In the Shannara series, the characters inhabit a universe that, while reminiscent of medieval times, actually exists after the modern world has collapsed due to an apocalypse. The races of elves, dwarves and men are quartered off into medieval-like kingdoms while remnants of a lost technology linger. What is known as the real world’s present is smoothly integrated into the Shannara universe as the very distant past.

In the series, the Druids were initially searching for archaic sciences, but stumbled upon an even older, deeper magic instead. Although the series is unique within fantasy in its individual melding of old and new, it serves as a prime example of the genre’s capability to do so seamlessly.

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