I spend most evenings working through the three or four books on my nightstand (Right now: Cleopatra: a Life, Lady Midnight, and Flight of Dreams). On days when adult responsibility is too much to handle (basically any night a child gets sick, for starters), I retreat exclusively to the genre I love best. Discovering new lands of wonder and mystery help keep me grounded. Here’s why:
Fantasy novels are full of wonder. Sinking into a world more magical than this one instantly relieves stress and gets my imagination working. I am more creative after I have spent time in a magical place. As someone who doesn’t naturally think outside the proverbial box, the extra sense of wonder is a definite improvement. My second grader often asks me if I think Hogwarts might exist. “We’d be Muggles, so we wouldn’t really know,” he says. (That’s solid logic, actually.) While I am 99% certain there is no actual school of witchcraft and wizardry, I relish time spent in a world where there is.
Fantasy novels depict characters struggling against insurmountable odds. No, there may not be any fire-breathing reptiles for me to slay, but I have felt overwhelmed by my own version of dragons: floundering relationships, the tax code, and how to keep deer out of my garden. I consider myself the hero of my own story, and that keeps me going when things get messy. This quote from The Name of the Wind sums up my thoughts perfectly: “The truth is deeper than that. It’s…” Bast floundered for a moment. “It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of the story.” On a lighter note, I always face the final hill on my run more enthusiastically when I imagine it as my own personal Mountain of Doom.
Fantasy novels tackle difficult issues. Some of the most profound insights about facing death I’ve ever read have come from fantasy novels. In the middle of stories about elves and wizards, I’ve discovered touching accounts of outcasts finally finding a place to belong. When I read The Hero and the Crown as a child, I never quite understood how the main character could love one man but end up marrying another at the end. I see it now as an allegory for loving again. “..she began to think of the wide silver lake as a place she had visited only in dreams, and of the tall blond man she had once known as a creature of those dreams; for the not quite mortal part of her did sleep, that she might love her country and her husband.” Am I reading too much into it? Maybe. But it’s the potential to find deeper meaning in fantasy that keeps me coming back for more.
I’ve been working on this idea for a few weeks now, wanting to do the genre justice without filling the post with pages and pages of quotes. Then yesterday morning, my brother called me to talk about how a few scenes from fantasy novels we’ve both loved help him work with clients in his family therapy practice. Ha! I am not the only one who gleans serious, responsible things from novels about wizards, dwarves, and ancient prophecies.