- Sterling Ulrich
- Moss Point, MS
- United States
What is the value of fantasy?
Fantasy has the kind of reputation no genre deserves. These days, when we say “fairy tales” we mean “nonsense” – but didn’t we used to love fairy tales when we were kids? Why not now?
“Grown-ups” have long been searching for some kind of justification – a way to prove that fantasy is valuable not only to toddlers but to, well anybody. Looking into it, I’ve discovered only two kinds of answers:
The answer I like: “There was a particular story that touched and moved me when I was young, and it changed my life.”
The answer I don’t like: “Fantasy presents symbolic representations of real-world concepts, which can facilitate our understanding of ourselves.”
The problem with the first answer is that it applies more to a story than to a genre. I dislike the second answer for two reasons. As an answer to the prompt, it assumes fantasy is only meaningful according to its symbolism, to the exclusion of all other qualities. Secondly, it assumes that all fantasy is symbolic; and this is also a two-fold problem: Pure fantastic allegory is not fantasy proper but fable (a separate genre – though I do not have time to distinguish them); barring that, there are numerous great fantasies without true symbolism (cf. C.S. Lewis’s remarks when asked if The Chronicles of Narnia were allegorical).
And yet, there is an over-arching difficulty for both answers: They could apply to any genre – not exclusively to fantasy! What then sets fantasy apart? Does anything? In American bookstores, we witness confused conglomerations of shelving, such as “Sci-fi/Horror/Fantasy;” and numerous magazines claim to treat those three genres equally.
Does anything distinguish fantasy from other imaginative genres; vis-à-vis, does fantasy have value in its own right? Cabinet des Fées has recently published my essay on the value of fantasy.
What about you? What experiences and understanding do you only achieve through fantasy?