Why Fantasy?

Who hasn't dreamed of visiting?
Who hasn’t dreamed of visiting?

“The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.”                    –Albert Einstein

I sometimes dread telling people that I’m a writer, because the inevitable follow-up question is always: “Oh, well, what do you write?” And, when I’m being honest, the answer to that question is fantasy. And that answer opens up a veritable Pandora’s Box of reactions and comments.

Now, before I go on, let me clarify. I am in no way ashamed of reading, writing, or loving the fantasy genre. But when I tell strangers or acquaintances that I write fantasy, I get blank stares, rolled eyes, snarky comments, generalized confusion, or any combination of the above. “What’s fantasy?” some people inexplicably ask me (do you want the long answer or the short answer?). “Oh, like Twilight!” some folks crow, apparently delighted to have found a way to pigeon-hole me. “Don’t you feel like there are more important and interesting things happening in the real world that you could write about?” some rudely suggest.

But regardless of the way each question is worded, each reaction asks basically the same thing: Why fantasy?

I’ll tell you why. I write, read, and adore fantasy because of the wonder. Do you remember your first experience of wonder? For me, it’s a memory from when I was two or three. Someone–a parent or sibling–lifted me up to pick an apple from an apple tree. The memory is like a shattered mirror; shards of images and bright glimmers of emotion. The feel of the sun-warmed apple skin, smooth and fragrant in my palm. Broad green leaves whispering against each other. Strong hands holding me. Excitement. Safety. Awe. Because most of all, I am filled with wonder that there is a tree that makes apples, apples that can be eaten!

Throughout my life, I have found this wonder in many places, but most reliably in the realm of fantasy. In the Kingdom of Prydain, where pigs tell the future, sacrifices bring about miracles, and Assistant Pig-Keepers become Kings. In The Dark is Rising, where even children can wield great power and the balance between Light and Dark hangs in the balance of one boy’s decision. In Narnia, where animals speak and justice always triumphs. In ElfQuest‘s Land of Two Moons. In Alanna’s Tortall. In the Parallel Worlds of Chrestomanci.

I spent my childhood jumping into cupboards, getting lost in the woods, and chasing after woodland animals, seeking in the real world the wonders I discovered in fantasy. And in some ways, the fantasy worlds I loved so much seemed more real than my own life. More clear, more appealing, more important than the sundry goings on of daily life. A reality that was all mine, born of another’s words and brought to life by my imagination.

I’m an adult now, and much of that wide-eyed childlike wonder has been eroded by the inevitabilities of education, responsibility, and society. But still, I find myself thinking of far-off places where moonlight breeds magic and the things you dream become realities. And so, I write fantasy. And maybe one day, someone will pick up something I have written and discover that place where everything is more beautiful, love is more true, and possibilities are truly endless; that place called wonder.