Reading Fantasy in Hard Times

FantasyReadLEAD
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For as long as I can remember, my family turned to fiction when situations got tough. While sometimes this fiction was historical or even contemporary, more often than not when things were stressful or difficult, it was a fantasy story that we dove into. I was brought up on a steady diet of The Hobbit, A Wrinkle In Time, and The Chronicles of Narnia alongside my other required reading for school. It’s likely where I got my taste for reading fantasy in the first place. It is definitely why my fingers itch for it now when I am feeling particularly overwhelmed or stressed. It was such a normal event to sit down and read a “fairy tale” book in my home growing up, that I don’t think I realized that this was not a normal coping mechanism for many people until I moved out. 

While some people may tout “escapism” as the main reason for the tendency to turn to fantasy, I truly think that paints an incomplete picture. Of course I love to escape to worlds with no phones, social media sites, or pandemics. This is a given. But it is also not the only reason I find myself drawn to the fantastic and the whimsical. To be entirely honest, I see turning to fantasy in times of personal difficulty as an act of running to something more than I see it as running away from reality. It’s a minor but incredibly important distinction. 

Fantasy is a genre steeped in ordinary characters rising to great occasions. It is filled with individuals from humble origins overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles in order to fulfill their destiny (the hero’s journey). Perhaps more than any other genre, fantasy holds themes of bravery, loyalty, and friendship. Which oftentimes playout within a setting of a massive catastrophe. To me, it is a genre filled with hope. This hope is why it makes sense to me that this genre is the one I turn to when I need to feel hope in my own life. 

While the genre has always had popular critics, smarter people before me have defended it in kind just as fiercely. Authors and readers alike agree that there is a certain importance to reading the fantastical and the fairy tales. After all, one of Neil Gaiman’s most popular quotes (which was actually a paraphrase of an original quote from G.K. Chesterton) is: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” What an important concept to carry with us these days. 

This quote is a long time favorite of mine. It makes me a firm believer in the fact that there should be no such thing as “guilty pleasure” reading. We read for a myriad of reasons but none of those reasons should ever be guilt. There is always something to be learned from reading a well told story and immersing yourself in a world (fantasy or otherwise). Also, I firmly believe that no matter what genre, reading to feel joy is as legitimate a reason as any other to pick up a book.

Still, I am particular to fantasy and highly recommend a foray into the genre if you haven’t given it a chance yet. I find that people who did not grow up loving the genre tend to think fantasy is about dragons, fairies, and magic. That is certainly partially true. It is also equally true to say that the fantasy genre is also about human stories and relationships. They are tales filled with reminders to empower the oppressed and to hold tight to loved ones. The best fantasy stories are reminders of light in extraordinarily difficult times. 

The fantasy genre is as varied as any other, perhaps even more so. I promise that it’s easy to find the exact flavor you are looking for. If mermaids aren’t your jam then feel free to find a story with dragons. Fire breathing and scaled villains not your thing? That’s fine. There’s plenty of fantasy books without them. Find a comfortable starting point and I can almost guarantee that you will find yourself willing to branch off into themes and settings you never imagined before. Pick up that fantasy book your persistent friend has been telling you to read for ages. I bet there is a reason they’ve recommended it and you’ll be surprised how uplifting it can be. 

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