Why Fantasy?

Posted by on Sep 21, 2011 | 16 comments

When I was a child, people told me so often that I read fantasy for escape that I started to believe them.  I did like to be transported to other worlds.  And people did seem to think my life was something I should want to escape from.

My favorite book in grade three.

I don’t talk much about my childhood.  This is because, in my mind, it was a good one, but when I start to give people the details—my mother’s s schizophrenia, my father’s death, living with a number of different families—they tend to want to sit me down and make me a cup of tea.

Maybe I read fantasy because the problems in contemporary novels of that time seemed so minor.  The character dealing with her father’s death surrounded by a mother, sister, brother and two sets of grandparents just seemed like a big whiner to me.  I wanted to tell her to buck up and do her homework.  But the character who walked through a door and found herself in a completely alien land with strange customs and beliefs and assumptions—her I could identify with.  I’d walked through that door every time I lived with a different family.  And the girl in the dystopian novel who’d lost her whole world in a fiery apocalypse?  Well, I got her, too.

My favorite book in grade seven.

I wonder if I’d have the same experience if I was growing up today.  There have been a few articles of late criticizing the grittiness of contemporary YA fiction.  But it’s worthwhile to note that when a novel backs away from the truth, savvy children (by which I mean all of them) will back away from the novel.  Sometimes they’ll back away from the whole genre, as I did.

Now that I’m an adult, I don’t think I was escaping at all when I read fantasy as a child.  I think I was looking for answers about how to stay alive, the same way someone lost in the woods would pour over a survival manual.  The amazing thing is that I got those answers.  Books saved my life, I’m sure of that.

I asked my friend Karen Krossing why she read fantasy as a child and she said: to explore things beyond the world I knew.  When I was a child, I needed to learn to imagine that there was a world beyond the one I knew.  And fantasy taught me to do that.


  1. “I think I was looking for answers about how to stay alive, the same way someone lost in the woods would pour over a survival manual. The amazing thing is that I got those answers. Books saved my life, I’m sure of that.”

    I agree one hundred percent.

    Fantasy reflects life, magnifying the skills we need to stay alive: courage, determination and hope.

  2. Hi Carmen–thanks for stopping by. I’m so glad you agree and I love what you said about fantasy magnifying the skills we need to stay alive. It’s very true. Fantasy deals with the big life and death issues, doesn’t it, and yet some people think fantasy is too removed from life to be relevant. It just tends to talk about those issues in metaphor.

  3. I suppose that by exploring “things beyond the world I knew,” I was also exploring the world I lived in. Because all fantasy, no matter what world it is set in, is also a comment on our own world. That’s part of the excitement of reading fantasy, at least for me. It can examine our world through a unique lens.

    • To “examine our world through a unique lens.” I love that! That’s exactly what I feel fantasy does.

  4. You write eloquently about those of us who, like you, feel that books saved our lives and made us who we are. It is easy to understand why we’re passionate about making books.

  5. Wow. Thanks for sharing this. You’ve given me a whole new perspective.

  6. I truly believe books are a thing of magic. And your post proves that. 🙂

  7. I gotcha honey! 😉
    I’ll I can say is Thank God I didn’t have a TV until I was 15……whew…..that was indeed life saving. Now….if I could say the same for my boys…..but I guess, ‘that’s a different story…”. Much love Cath. xo

  8. Ha! I didn’t know you felt that way about growing up without TV. I also think it was life saving–although I do remember that I had a radio that got TV stations and that I would occasionally watch the neighbors’ TV through binoculars while listening to it. That is TV desperation!

  9. Thanks for sharing your story Lena–I’ve met a few teens who read fantasy for the same reason.

    And speaking of world creation, customs etc etc…you did it _so well_ in Witchlanders I know yours will be a fantasy teens will love.

    • Deb, thanks so much. You’ve been incredibly supportive of the book and I am enormously appreciative!

  10. I’ve never thought of it quite like this. Beautiful. Fantasy does get a bad rap for being “escapist” but for me it can be more cathartic than reading straight up realistic fiction, because I let myself get lost more fully in the story.

    • Thank you! That’s just how I feel, although I think there’s nothing wrong with escaping once in a while, too!


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