A Fantastic Place

by MW Cook

Sometimes, I’m self-conscious about the kind of books I read.

There are two kinds of books out there, in popular understanding. Just like there are two kinds of movies and two kinds of foods and two kinds of high school tracks. Academic and applied. Gourmet and common. Critical and popular. High and low. Good and not-nearly-so-good.

These divisions don’t really exist, of course. And they ruin things. They try to make me think that I ought to like Agnes Grey better than The Final Empire. I mean, Agnes Grey is a classic (whatever that means). The Final Empire is about a metal-magic teen who needs to kill a god. But I don’t. The Final Empire (and the rest of the Mistborn series) was better. It’s hard to tell people that, though. Because fantasy sounds trite (though it isn’t).

I love fantasy. And I don’t want to be ashamed of my love for fantasy. So I drew up a list of the great and wonderful place of fantasy in literature:

  • Fantasy is closer to real life than the world we think we live in. Pop-secularism sees a drab, boring world, devoid of the wonderful, fantastic or glorious. Our culture gives birth to unverifiable dogmas that always seem to begin with “There’s no such thing as…” Fantasy gives us mystery back. Or, rather, it reminds us of the mystery we lost. It reminds us that fairies do, indeed, exist.
  • Fantasy helps us rejoice in the mundane. G.K. Chesterton suggested that one reason there are fantastic things in stories is so we can see how fantastic things actually are around us. A river of gold, he says, reminds us that rivers are actually filled with something more wondrous: water.
  • Perhaps better than any other genre, fantasy is able to embody truth. Fantasy is like a magnifying glass in its analysis. Courage is best seen and understood, not by one man fighting another, but by a weak, uneducated hobbit attacking the immortal dark lord of Mordor. Love is best seen and understood, not through a girl willing to marry a secure man, but by a girl willing to marry the Dragon Reborn, who is damned to kin-slaying madness.
  • Fantasy is beautiful. Those who read fantasy will tell you, it’s not the funny names or magic spells that draw us. It’s the glory of it all. The beauty in the idyllic origins of the world in The Silmarillion. The glory of the One Power in The Wheel of Time. The depth of character in the many protagonists of A Song of Ice and Fire.
  • Fantasy teaches us to open our minds and accept that we know nothing. You see that theme in nearly every fantasy. Frodo must open up and see that there is more to the world beyond the Shire. Rand Al’thor must realize that the petty morals of his youth are too small for the world. Vin must see that Allomancy is not shadowy witchcraft, but something deep, true and beautiful.
  • Own what you love. If you love it, I think I don’t have the right to call it trite or base.