In Defense of Fantasy Literature

“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking”

Albert Einstein

I don’t know what people have against imagination and consequently, against fantasy literature, but without this ability with which God has endowed mankind, we would still live in caves and battle with bats. In order for us to create something new that will help us to move a step ahead in the improvement of our lives, we must first imagine it. That is, to think it up and add a picture to it. The best example is God Himself, who created the universe from nothing. He didn’t copy it from some pre-existing reality but was first born in His thought, that is, His imagination. What process He used isn’t that important. What’s important is that He created a universe into which He included all the science we know and that which we still don’t know. In essence, mankind simply discovers from an already existing material. Only God creates from nothing. Even so, mankind, in order to discover anything, will have first to imagine it. Scientific theories have been propounded long before someone was able to prove them. That is why Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” It’s impossible to invent something if you don’t have first a picture for it in your mind. I find, therefore, that the contempt and marginalization of fantasy has no logical basis at all, no excuse aside from ignorance.

In the realistic novel, authors take an experience and try to recreate it with words –that is, they use words to recreate the reality of that experience. In fantasy, authors take that same experience and out of it, they create a completely new world –a new universe. They pour all their feelings and experiences of life into the formation of that other world, which is nothing more and nothing less than the embodiment of what they have lived. And so, they turn their loneliness into a vast desert, their emotional pain and torture into real pain and real torture, their experience of seclusion and confinement become a prison and they, themselves, the kings, who, stripped of their authority, rot in that underground hole where they’re alive but dead. Whatever they love and whatever they appreciate become elements of their new world. Thus, the reality or truth of a fantasy story lies in its meaning, not in the actual events, as I’ve said before.

That’s about how fantasy authors see and write their stories. Their fantasy worlds are part of themselves. They come out of their soul and are not just idle fancies out of their head. No matter what the struggles in their lives have been, their protagonist will be going through similar experiences. If a side of them has tried to encourage and inspire them in their struggle, there will be a friend, a mentor, or a wise man, who will encourage their protagonist and help him to see the bright side, to go on, to persevere in spite of internal struggle. And as in realistic novels, authors add elements that are not their immediate, personal experiences, but out of what they’ve heard and seen, so do authors of fantasy. There will always be elements that don’t come out of our immediate experience, but as we process them they become our own because they come from what is common to humanity.

A serious fantasy novel demands usually much research to be written. And this because is not a fairy tale and the universe you create must make sense. It might be necessary to study scientific theories extremely difficult in their comprehension and make calculations you never dreamed of having to do. And because there are created endless associations, you must be able to follow all of them to their natural conclusion, to avoid inconsistencies. It’s the reason experienced writers advise to never start your writing career with a fantasy novel, which is considered a very difficult form. Many of us though, have done exactly that, and it’s like falling into the sea in the middle of the ocean and having to reach some coast, while you have never learned how to swim. In which case, you’ll either reach a coast having learned swimming, or you’ll drown, that is, you’ll quit.

“Imagination is the eye of the soul,” said French essayist and moralist Joseph Joubert (1754-1824). A fantasy story is actually a work of art. You create something real –your fantasy world and your characters and situations—out of something abstract –the concepts of your real experiences. And as a work of art reveals much about the artist, the same way a fantasy story reveals much about the author, if the reader knows how to read it. Of course, there are soulless stories out there. Stories that have been written by having followed a certain formula.  They also talk about their creator. For if depth in imagination talks about the artist, so does the lack of it. The only way to learn to distinguish the quality of a book is to learn to read.

And I’ll finish with a quote by Jane Stanton Hitchcock. “The key to life is imagination. If you don’t have that, no matter what you have, it’s meaningless. If you do have imagination… you can make feast of straw.” And as Einstein said, “Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”


 by Έlενα Τίngα