If you know me even a little, you probably know that I very much enjoy the genre of fantasy.
It’s what put me on the road towards writing, and continues to cultivate a love for reading. When I was younger, my favorite thing to do was to go to the Bartholomew Country Library and pick out a book to read (and by book, I mean around three or four). My favorite books were written by an author named Emily Rhoda. Seriously, go look her stories up. It might be the nostalgia talking, but they remain some of my favorite stories, even in my college years. I would sit in the quiet of my room and read about strange creatures, princes, princesses, mysterious lands, and heroes that never fail to stir my heart towards bravery. Even in my young age, I knew that it wasn’t actually real. Fantasy was just pretend. Right?
Many would define the idea of fantasy as ‘something that is not real,’ but what if I told you that this definition misses a huge part of how fantasy works?
Let me explain. The world of fantasy primarily works through images. If you cannot imagine Middle Earth, then it is a very empty fantasy to experience. Tolkien uses the familiar to show us just how incredible his world is. He describes things such as deep forests, holding immortal elves; great mountains, full of rich and prosperous dwarves; and grand castles, home to the proud race of man. It’s not real, but it uses imagery to embody the emotions felt when experiencing the story Tolkien wanted to tell.
Let’s change perspectives now. There are things in your life that are simply objects, but hold an extra amount of importance within their being. Take a rose, for example. It’s a complex, beautiful, and delicate flower. When offering one to a certain person, however, that simple flower becomes something greater. It becomes a symbol of love. An image that creates a stirring in our emotions. Roses are a very real kind of fantasy. If the feelings of emotion and love did not come with the rose, then it would simple be an everyday flower, just as empty as a Middle Earth without any description.
But let’s put two and two together now. The reason Middle Earth is so magical is that mountains, forests, and castles bring in a sense of wonder from the real world. The rose gives the same emotions whether in a romance, or in real life. This is because fantasy uses the tools of the real world to do its magic, with a small hint of the unfamiliar to keep your attention.
The things we find in our favorite fantasy novels are present in everyday life. The dragons in our day just come in a very different form.
You might say: “But why doesn’t my life feel so magical then?” Well, life is full of things that simply hold an empty or negative image. When something becomes monotonous, it loses its magic, and thus loses its fantasy. Driving to work every day becomes second nature, and all of the color, emotion, and imagery is suddenly sucked out of it. It becomes an empty Middle Earth that has lost its grand landscape. Fantasy feels magical all the time (if written correctly) because it can manipulate the circumstances to allow for the magical parts of life to happen in a very quick sequence. If they can’t, then you just cut to the next scene or chapter. This is something you cannot do in life.
God has given us a creation that declares his glory, therefore allowing us to revel in a vast amount of emotion and imagery in the things around us. Fantasy simply uses this to its advantage and core, and it is far from exclusive to a genre of stories.
Don’t think of fantasy as ‘something that is not real,’ but think of it as a way to further experience the reality around you, whether in book form or not. There is a certain kind of ‘magic’ all around us, and we only need to look a little closer to experience it. Your life is filled with characters, locations, and emotional and physical conflict. It’s up to you to determine how that story will play out, to a certain extent, of course.
Fantasy does things that real life cannot. It can manipulate the emotions and images to its will and purpose. However, our stories are written by a much better author than Tolkien ever was. The heavens declare the glory of God, and fantasy is simply a gateway to continue to experience it. If we look towards fantasy as the better of the two realities, I would remind you that our eternal fate is much more wondrous, and critical, than a castle in a land ‘far far away’ could ever be.
Psalm 19: 1-3
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.