Fantasy is a relatively new genre to me.
It used to be one of my forbidden things, out of concern that the magic which is often included might make it unbiblical. Granted, there still is fantasy I wouldn’t read. But then there are books in every genre I wouldn’t read, and banning a specific genre doesn’t treat the root of the issue:
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Phil. 4:8)
Am I willing to evaluate everything I read, or do I live in fear and throw the baby out with the bathwater? I decided on the first.
I started out with Narnia, because it seemed harmless enough. So harmless, in fact, I read it three times in a row and listened to the audio version on repeat. It now surprises me that it took me seven years to realize it wasn’t just The Chronicles of Narnia I liked, but fantasy in general.
Then came the summer I read The Lord of The Rings. The remainder of that summer, I voraciously read any fantasy I could lay my hands on. C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, The Stormlight Archives, Wingfeather Tales, 100 Cupboards and The Green Ember were read multiple times. It was as if l had discovered a secret room in the house, and it was the best room of them all!
I’ve found that reading fantasy fosters the imagination like nothing else does. A good author gives your imagination a complete handbook to paint a world and experience a story in vivid colors with powerful emotions. It reminds me that life is an adventure. When I put down a fantasy book, I may be putting down the story but I carry the courage it injected into my reasoning around with me. I need that, not only in hard days but especially in the mundane moments that happen throughout hard years.
Epic journeys that happen in fantasy books have mundane moments in them as well.
Characters sleep outside in the rain, get sick, lose friends and it often takes them months to reach their destination. It’s a good reminder that patience is indeed a virtue, and helps me persevere in my own journey. It’s a very human sentiment to want to be over with the journey already, to get to the top of the mountain, the warm welcome awaiting at the end of an arduous trek through wind and rain. When I see other people’s highs, I sometimes forget that they had a long journey before that. I just long for my own moment of victory, safety and accomplishment. I need to be reminded to be strong and courageous in the most boring, seemingly meaningless, stretches of my quest.
There is a lot of questing that goes on in fantasy books, or at least some sort of journey that irrevocably leads the characters into danger.
Danger brings out the nobleness in ordinary people who might have been, or thought they were, weak. They were put in front of an urgent, important choice: “Will I sit back or step out and do what I can?” Sitting back might not seem to lead to evil when not much is at stake this moment. But when it happens on the cusp of tragedy, it stands out starkly: Choosing to do nothing can be very cowardly.
I watch characters in stories make heroic decisions that lead them through personal losses and trials.
I also watch some take the cowards’ way, so that they don’t have to give anything up in this moment. Often, it leads others into danger and death, and more often than not in the end either these characters or their children still lose out. It was just a shallow gain, a momentary relief. A story doesn’t have to be a fantasy for this, of course, but it does get amplified in this genre.
Fantasy essentially plucks me up and drops me in a place I’ve never been before. Even the basics of life as I know it are different. I have to discover the physical look of the world and its people, the culture, the history and direction the characters are going. It makes me pay better attention and see ordinary interactions from a different angle. I consider things I would barely register otherwise, or at the very least they are given more significance.
Old thoughts are reconsidered. What is life worth to me? What do I believe? Who am I? Who do I identify with, and why is that? How far will I go for my convictions? Even my convictions are revisited.
It gives me compassion for those who have a different story line than mine, gives me a glimpse into their motivations, loneliness and longing for eternity. A feeling of kinship and understanding for real people forms while I walk alongside fictional characters who show me the depths of themselves and let me experience it as if it were me.
All of this happens subtly, while I am reading. It reforms my character, breaking me out of the mold I’ve inhabited for a long time. Not always to change, because not everything needs to be changed and some opinions I stand by, but to step out, consider, understand and maybe step back into my opinion with more compassion and grace for others.
I’m left with a fire that burns in my soul, intent on walking my path with determination and courage, to not sit back, no matter how hard it gets.
Featured image: the the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge in Northern Ireland