[Note from Frolic: We are so excited to welcome author Tara Sim to the site today. Her novel Scavenge the Stars is out now!]
Fantasy has always been seen as an escapist genre, Narnia-esque in its ability to transport readers to other worlds. From its fantastical settings and extraordinary magic to relatable yet otherworldly characters, fantasy has an ability to take your imagination and run wild.
But more importantly, it’s a safe space for many readers, especially those who society often fails to protect. What if there was a world without homophobia? What if there was a nation that didn’t belittle women, but revered them? What if people of color or trans folks didn’t have to fear for their lives every day? What if the people who were vulnerable in our own world could wield magic and weapons and be heroes?
Fantasy isn’t entirely escapist. On the contrary, fantasy has always been a distorted mirror of our own world. It has always been political, a blank space with which to play with ideas and social constructs. These worlds are often commentaries on our own, from kingdoms with tyrannical rulers to corrupt nobles to the persecution of magic users. There are still plenty of stories and authors who fail their marginalized readers by continuing to use harmful themes and portrayals—or who simply do not bother with inclusivity.
So it stands to reason that many marginalized people find comfort in fantasy stories that actively make room for them. When you pick up a contemporary or literary novel, you know what you’re likely to find—racism, homophobia, sexism, stigma—because it’s a story within the world as we know it. Even if the story has no active scenes with these things, the threat of it is still there because we understand the truth of our society.
But a completely new, made-up society, shaped however you want? It opens so many doors and opportunities to question why things have to be a certain way, and what would happen if you could make a change for the better. To have a queen marry another woman or to showcase an undefeatable legion of Black knights.
This was an active choice I made when developing the world of the Timekeeper series. My main character, Danny, is a gay boy living in Victorian England. Historically, homosexually was still a punishable offense during this time period, but I knew going into it that I wanted none of that. In this alternate world, clock towers literally run time; they are highly mechanized and advanced at the time of their building. To me, this meant that the Industrial Revolution happened much sooner, so technology—and therefore society—advanced a lot quicker in this timeline.
Which meant that homosexuality, while still questionable to many, is completely legal in the world of Timekeeper. I wanted to give YA queer readers a safe space to explore a historical fantasy world with steampunk trappings and a supernatural queer couple at the heart of it. I wanted them to focus only on the magic and the mystery without having to worry about what it meant to be a gay boy in actual Victorian London. Danny is only concerned about who he loves because he’s a ghost, not because he’s another boy.
Instead of calling fantasy an escapist genre, let’s see it for what it truly is: a vision of how things could be. Safe places for marginalized readers to curl up and feel welcomed in. We’ve come so far from the standard “white hetero boy goes out to have an adventure” stories—we now have “brown girl with a sword saves the day” and “trans boy gets a happily ever after.” We have marginalized authors telling their stories. We have new perspectives.
As a reader, you know what fantasy means to you, whether it truly is an escape or a fun distraction or because you just really love magic. What fantasy means for the rest of us—true, inclusive fantasy—is home.
About the Author:
When she’s not writing about mischievous boys in clock towers, Tara spends her time drinking tea, wrangling cats, and occasionally singing opera. Despite her bio-luminescent skin, she is half-Indian and eats way too many samosas.
Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim, out now!
When Amaya rescues a mysterious stranger from drowning, she fears her rash actions have earned her a longer sentence on the debtor ship where she’s been held captive for years. Instead, the man she saved offers her unimaginable riches and a new identity, setting Amaya on a perilous course through the coastal city-state of Moray, where old-world opulence and desperate gamblers collide. Amaya wants one thing: revenge against the man who ruined her family and stole the life she once had. But the more entangled she becomes in this game of deception-and as her path intertwines with the son of the man she’s plotting to bring down-the more she uncovers about the truth of her past. And the more she realizes she must trust no one?