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Why do people write fantasy?




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message 23: by Therazor (new)

Therazor | 15 comments It is a point in time where man vs. nature were at equals and makes for a damn good story.


message 22: by Al (new)

Al | 159 comments I'm a little late to the party on this thread (ok, a lot late) but here's an angle of the Jung/Campbell thing that I think is worth mentioning and I don't believe was explicitly called out.

Jung compared archetypes to the structure of a crystal: a deep structured potential pattern that gets filled out by unique individual lives (including cultural elements as they are transmitted and learned by individuals.) (And this is not a passive process but a heroic enterprise.)

Myth and fantasy call out that deep structure more explicitly using the techniques folks mentioned above. We are taken out of our normal context but given back patterns that resonate...that feed the part of us that is knitting together the archetypes within us. In Jungian terms, it feeds our soul. In this sense, fantasy points in the 'opposite' direction of hard science fiction. It's not trying to open up but to deepen.

I loved the Alexander quote! Here's something similar from James Hillman:

“Some people in desperation have turned to witchcraft, magic and occultism, to drugs and madness, anything to rekindle imagination and find a world ensouled. But these reactions are not enough. What is needed is a revisioning, a fundamental shift of perspective out of that soulless predicament we call modern consciousness.”

Hillman was always a bit of a drama queen.


message 21: by Sanjiv (last edited Dec 08, 2011 10:16AM) (new)

Sanjiv | 21 comments Mike wrote: "To answer your question with a question, why would fantasy be any more or less relevant today than it was 10,000 years ago? "

Was fantasy relevant 10,000 years ago? Are we talking about myths, or fairy tales? And is that the same kind of fantasy we have today? (questions vs. questions vs. questions)

I didn't mean to argue that fantasy was less relevant today. A quick aside (on my intent, and why I focus the conversation on high fantasy rather than all fantasy): I once treated fantasy as science fiction, wanting things to at least make sense within the context of the fantasy world. Then I realized I may have been missing the joy of the genre by approaching it that way, which is why I raised this topic, to help myself appreciate the genre more. I figure that sciFi and fantasy shares some of the same readers, which is why one genre sometimes mimics the other (hence 'low' fantasy), but if you want to have 'pure' fantasy, you go to the Tolkien stuff. I'm wanted to stick with 'dragons and elves' to basically control my variables.

But to your question of why would fantasy become more or less relevant with time--I don't know. I'll try a ramble:

Carl Jung noticed how the same symbols were showing up in mythology around the world, and he figured that the human mind must be the common denominator. Same types of minds result in the same type of myths, basically. So the reason mythology and fantasy was relevant was because it (1) contained some kind of truth, and (2) it was understandable to a general audience. Different communities or story tellers tried to localize the myth, adding 'realism,' but I'd say those stories didn't propagate as successfully as the general versions.

Today, since we live in a 'remix culture,' I'd argue that local communities are better equipped to provide local realsim and relevance, and there's no longer a need to keep stories general. But aside from that, if I was to argue that fantasy was less relevant today, it'd be because (1) traditional fantasy symbols now belong to a niche, rather than being as universal as they once were, and (2) there are more relevant universal symbols to replace traditional fantasy. I.e. sciFi, super heroes, and horror. Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse, if yo will. Too bad those last two are copy written, and don't belong to the culture at large.

(My curiosity on this topic has actually been satiated and satisfied, thanks to previous posts on the thread. But of course I'll respond and take part in questions posed. I'm a fan of conversation for conversation's sake)


message 20: by Mike (new)

Mike Betts (michaelbetts) | 256 comments I should point out that realism in literature is a relatively recent development. We have been telling fantastical stories to each other since before the invention of the written word, and I would argue that the majority of it had nothing to do with "spiritual tales." (Beowulf, The Iliad, etc - and that's only the stuff that's survived).

In other words, there is something primal about imagining the fantastical and wanting to believe in something magical. It has forever been the nature of man to view the world and imagine it being quite a bit more interesting than it already is. I don't see why that would change in a "secular" world.

To answer your question with a question, why would fantasy be any more or less relevant today than it was 10,000 years ago?


message 19: by Michal (new)

Michal (MichaltheAssistantPigkeeper) | 245 comments Sanjiv wrote: "I'm impressed with the cohesive worlds that fantasy writers build, and I like to live in them, but I don't understand why anyone bothers to build them with such frequency. That doesn't seem like it should happen. "

It seems a pretty easy thing to explain. Writers are readers. And writers tend to write what they like to read.

As for you other questions, the GGK essay I linked to touches on those as well.


message 18: by Sanjiv (new)

Sanjiv | 21 comments Tamahome wrote: "$$$$"

Why does stuff like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter (or Twilight) break into the mainstream? What's the appeal of fantasy? I'll admit I'm usually just following the fads.


message 17: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 4636 comments $$$$


message 16: by Sanjiv (new)

Sanjiv | 21 comments common ground: King Arthur and Lord of the Rings seem like good choices. Their links to history are also undeniable, and I can see how they're epic tales that are easier to enjoy and get into than reality, which is often messy, and where we want to avoid simplifications anyway.

However, all fiction does that; paints a stylized view of reality for its own reasons. What does fantasy make possible that other genres do not? Is it simply so far from reality that it's the most escapist or non-threatening of the genres? Or is it the closest to reality because it has the language to deal with non-logical things? Or is it the genre where authors can be the most free, able to describe whatever acid trip they want to?

I'm impressed with the cohesive worlds that fantasy writers build, and I like to live in them, but I don't understand why anyone bothers to build them with such frequency. That doesn't seem like it should happen.


message 15: by Michal (last edited Nov 27, 2011 05:18PM) (new)

Michal (MichaltheAssistantPigkeeper) | 245 comments Sanjiv wrote: "My notion of fantasy is currently defined by the first two King Killer Chronicles, and A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Not a dragon nor elf in either of them, as far as I can tell. But in fact the true topic of this thread is 'Why do people write about dragons and elves?' That's was my real question."

Ah, in that case, I'm afraid there is no one answer. Ask a hundred fantasy authors, and you'd get a hundred different responses tuned to personal experience. But, if you want a general, overarching, and not particularily concrete reason, I suppose you could argue (as it has been, numerous times) that fantasy as a reaction to/against "liquid modernity". Fantasy, usually based around premodern or otherwise historical settings, may just be an alternate way in which we are connecting with the past that doesn't deal directly with history.

(I'll note that there's also plenty of fantasy written with contemporary settings, so the above Need Not Apply.)

Guy Gavriel Kay is an example that immediately springs to mind as an author who uses fantasy as a means to explore history -- in the essay "Home and Away" lays out his reasons for writing fantasy: http://www.brightweavings.com/ggkswor... (and also engages with your second point).

I should also add that this discussion is necessarily limited by the fact that your experience with fantasy seems to come from Rothfuss, Jamieson and D&D. I haven't read The Kingkiller Chronicles, or The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and I've never played D&D, so it's difficult to find common ground.

My favourite living fantasy authors are Gene Wolfe, Guy Gavriel Kay, Charles de Lint, Ursula K. LeGuin & Ellen Kushner. My favourite dead ones are Lord Dunsany, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Only the last wrote fantasy of the sort you're describing.

Different experience might also make this tricky. Are you asking "Why do people write Fantasy?" or "Why do people write a specific sort of Fantasy?". Because then I'm not even answering the second question, and in all likelihood I'm talking about a different sort of fantasy literature altogether!


message 14: by Sanjiv (last edited Nov 27, 2011 02:57PM) (new)

Sanjiv | 21 comments Matthew wrote: "Years ago in a Locus interview, fantasy and YA author Jane Yolen stated that she likes fantasy because it allows you to discuss those things that are laughed at at cocktail parties: love, honor, et..."

Catcher in the Rye, for crying out loud. Catcher in the Rye deals with love and honor. Bonfire of the Vanities and Atlas Shrugged have their own approaches. Romeo and Juliet...People at cocktail parties clearly don't have issues with talking about Love and Honor. If they have a problem, it's with understanding hypotheicals; it's coming to grips with fantastical things--It's just not a tool they're familiar with, which begs the question: Why write fantasy when it has such high barriers to entry? I think that's an interesting conversation to have.

My failure to understand the broad breath or unfathomable depth of fantasy isn't relevant to the conversation. Furthermore, looking at "the fantastic in all its myriad forms" makes it really hard to distinguish between fantasy and simply ALL fiction, so that's not useful either. You want to look at the genre beyond the 'dragons and elves' subset? That's cool. Then define the subset and talk about it. Emphasizing the diversity of the field isn't so relevant here.


message 13: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (bluewoad) Years ago in a Locus interview, fantasy and YA author Jane Yolen stated that she likes fantasy because it allows you to discuss those things that are laughed at at cocktail parties: love, honor, etc.

@Sanjiv: I think you're continuing to confuse 'dragons and elves' (which are only a small part of the fantasy genre) with the whole genre. Fantasy as a whole is a diverse field that looks at the fantastic in all its myriad forms, and by doing so is better able to get to the human soul than other more 'reality-based' genres that have to work hard to get past the postmodern ironic stance.


message 12: by Sanjiv (last edited Nov 27, 2011 12:26AM) (new)

Sanjiv | 21 comments @ 11, Michael: What defines fantasy (for you), and what interesting questions have some fantasy novels raised? I'll admit I have no intuition of where you're coming from. But I'll make or clarify a few points:

1. I haven't read any examples of fantasy that let me think more deeply about the past. And in this day of liquid modernity, I don't think that's even possible anymore. I.e. Young adults today are less connected to the past than ever before.

2. The reason nerd is the new cool (I'm trying to coin 'geek is the new chic') is because we're realizing every instance of 'escapism' seems to be peoples' attempts to engage with the world in a new way. Thus we get the public celebration of gamers, gamification, and geeky hobbies; we're realizing that escapism doesn't equate with denial, but with innovation and strength.

So don't take it the wrong way when I say that if fantasy isn't escapism, nothing is. Unless you accept Tora's (inevitable) view that fantasy speaks to the core truths, while our culture is a convenient lie we tell ourselves...That's a really cool view, actually. Still, I'm prepared to argue the counterpoint, which I genuinely think is correct.

3. The genres have been around for so long that 'innovation' nowadays just means breaking down the barriers between them. So the only things left to distinguish genres are their old symbols and tropes. Therefore I assume that there's something specifically unique about fantasy tropes (i.e. dragons and elves) that are better suited to telling certain kinds of stories, compared to its competitors.

My notion of fantasy is currently defined by the first two King Killer Chronicles, and A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Not a dragon nor elf in either of them, as far as I can tell. But in fact the true topic of this thread is 'Why do people write about dragons and elves?' That's was my real question.

This is linked to my starting to play in DnD style worlds, and having to come to grips with the lack of sense certain things made (compared to the King Killer Chronicles, mind you).


message 11: by Michal (new)

Michal (MichaltheAssistantPigkeeper) | 245 comments Sanjiv wrote: "SciFi excels at psychological and cultural experiments , and super heros excel at looking at archetypal personalities we can get behind. In that context, how come superhero 'modern fantasy' hasn't replaced elves and dragons?"

Fantasy isn't defined by elves and dragons, and while magic is often considered the determining factor there are some fantasy novels that don't feature magic at all (Swordspoint, for instance.)

I don't think fantasy is necessarily escapist.

"Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It's a way of understanding it" - Lloyd Alexander.

Though one major difference might be that while science fiction tends to ask questions about our future, fantasy seems more often to ask questions about / explore the past. Both are pretty important things to consider--where we have been, and where we are going. (There are plenty of exceptions to this, but speaking broadly, there's at least a part of the science fiction and fantasy genres that work this way).


message 10: by Kevin (new)

Kevin (kevn57) Suhail wrote: "Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Tolkien write LotR as a modern mythology of Europe with the Hobbits being Brits, Rohan being Scandinavia and Gondor being Germanic or something like that? I reme..."



As for any inner meaning or 'message', it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical. As the story grew it put down roots (into the past) and threw out unexpected branches: but its main theme was settled from the outset by the inevitable choice of the Ring as the link between it and _The Hobbit_. The crucial chapter, 'The Shadow of the Past', is one of the oldest parts of the tale. It was written long before the foreshadow of 1939 had yet become a threat of inevitable disaster, and from that point the story would have developed along essentially the same lines, if that disaster had been averted. :JRR Tolkien

I'm not sure when that intro was added to the novel, it was in the first paperback edition I read in the 1970's

Many people thought that WW 2 was the basis for the book, but Tolkien claims the plot had already been decided before the war broke out. But Tolkien served in WW 1 and surely his service influenced his fiction and views on war.


message 9: by Sanjiv (new)

Sanjiv | 21 comments Tora wrote: "But one thing that both fantasy and science fiction can do... is attempt to lift us out of that cultural context..."

I like that idea a lot.

So SciFi, Fantasy, and SuperHero comicbooks all (1) offer us escapes from reality, and (2) allow us to partake in psychological experiments, independent from real many real world constraints. I'm on board with that. But that said, each those three genres do compete with each other, and I'm still not sure how Fantasy's holding it's ground.

SciFi excels at psychological and cultural experiments , and super heros excel at looking at archetypal personalities we can get behind. In that context, how come superhero 'modern fantasy' hasn't replaced elves and dragons?


message 8: by Dale (new)

Dale (Ddreams) | 6 comments ( how i see it )Fantasy is all in the name really, everyday we do the monotony that is everyday life.
As Terry Pratchett once wrote in on of his books, only humans could invent boredom.
For me, my mind needs to do something other than sit at my computer in work and process mundane rubbish, it likes to free wheel and spin off on random thoughts.
This is where " Fantasy " comes from i suppose, all genre's are in someway fantasy ( exept the obvious ), its the need to be more than you are ( in your head at least ), but Fantasy and Sfi take it to the outer extremes of the imagination.
Now as to why people write it, well from my own mind i have the burning urge to preserve whats in my head, to commit the epics that i see when i let my mind wander.
Its easier said than done however the need could turn into a want then to share and that invokes the human " ego " to tell tall tales and " one up manship ", all in all i think its an escape for the author as much as it is for the reader.


message 7: by Matt (new)

Matt | 90 comments I subscribe to the Billy Madison school of thought; we've never seen or heard about dragons, magic, elves, dwarves, etc but we want to so we write/draw/make movies about them.


message 6: by Tora (new)

Tora | 69 comments According to Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, and the like, myths are a sort of metaphorical map of human life and the human psyche. In other words, they convey deeply true things about ourselves and how life works.

Most stories carry fundamental cultural beliefs, so that stories from the Christian tradition often feature good people being rewarded and bad people being punished, while stories from the Arabian Nights, for example, feature random luck as a primary determiner of one's fate. In the Greek tradition, people were the playthings of whimsical gods, while American tales feature the self-made man--hard work and natural ability leading to success. These kinds of stories serve to teach the young how they're supposed to perceive the world and reinforce the cultural mindset, and to comfort and reassure adults that their worldview is correct and accurate.

The great myths are the ones that, when one peels away the layers of cultural propaganda, still contain a core of truth about human nature or human existence. This is also true of great literature, so that even thousands of years later and with little or no knowledge of ancient Greek culture, one can still be moved by the Iliad. And it's why, despite not living in Regency or Victorian England, I can adore Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet or sympathize with Charles Dickens' Miss Havisham.

Fantasy is neither more nor less than any other kind of fiction. But one thing that both fantasy and science fiction can do, when they choose to, is attempt to lift us out of that cultural context to examine or explore our base cultural assumptions more objectively. Which is one of the reasons that I, personally, am particularly drawn to these genres.


message 5: by Suhail (new)

Suhail Durani (suhail_durani) | 5 comments Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Tolkien write LotR as a modern mythology of Europe with the Hobbits being Brits, Rohan being Scandinavia and Gondor being Germanic or something like that? I remember learning about that in a class I took but I wasn't sure if that was his intention or just the opinion of some of his readers.


message 4: by Stan (new)

Stan Slaughter | 359 comments I've always seen mythology as folk taies, campfire stories, and tall tales all rolled into one and passed down to us from ancient times.

Rollicking fun adventure tied up with monsters, gods, and mortals.

Sounds like modern Fantasy stories to me.


message 3: by Paul 'Pezski' (new)

Paul 'Pezski' Perry (Pezski) | 381 comments Sanjiv wrote: "I always thought fantasy was akin to mythology, and people engaged with them as sort of spiritual tales. But that certainly seems less relevant today, doesn't it?"

I think that's a serious underestimate of the role played by mythology. I don't think most mythology is of a 'spiritual' nature, except that co-opted by religions. Mythologies tend to work when they tell us some psychological or moral truths. The ancient Greek myths or the Grimm fairy tales.

While come modern fantasy (the best of it in my opinion - Angela Carter, Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Jonathan Carroll, writers who really understand the power of myth) - does do the same thing, I think most of it does more of the general fiction "what if", putting recognisable people in different situations to see how they react, to entertain and distract and, sometimes, enlighten us. A lot of is is definitely escapism, but so for most people is reading Jane Austen, and give me George RR Martin any day.


message 2: by Brett (new)

Brett (bbell) | 3 comments Because we experience the same broken world day after day and it is fun to escape to a new and exciting one for however long it takes to read the book.


message 1: by Sanjiv (new)

Sanjiv | 21 comments I always thought fantasy was akin to mythology, and people engaged with them as sort of spiritual tales. But that certainly seems less relevant today, doesn't it?


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Jane Austen (other topics)
George R.R. Martin (other topics)
Angela Carter (other topics)
Jonathan Carroll (other topics)
Charles de Lint (other topics)
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