Fantasy Genre: Lost in a Wardrobe, Bespelled by a Ring
Although I have always found books enchanting, I was not an avid reader as a child. As a youngster, my love for all things sport dominated much of my every waking moment. Still, when I did read, I’d become engrossed. Utterly. Completely. I’d find myself transported into the world of the author. Lost in his vision.
I cannot recall who introduced the book to me, but I read C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe when I was nine or ten. And I was cast instantly under Narnia’s spell. I devoured all seven books in the series, and though left breathless by the exhilarating finale, I also experienced a profound sadness that the tale had concluded. Just like Peter and Susan, I was not returning to Narnia. I found other books dull and lifeless by comparison.
That was until I encountered Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Again, I was bewitched. Entranced. Middle-earth took me back to the same otherworldly sensation that Narnia had first introduced, and this second taste was as delicious as the first.
For me, fantasy is the ultimate escape, the premier medium for leisure. Yet it’s not merely a form of indulgence. It can also serve as a powerful conduit to convey a message. Lewis taught me a childlike faith and about the consequences of choice. Tolkien taught me to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, and about courage and loyalty. Returning to these books in my adult life taught me many more lessons still. And characters like Prince Caspian and Reepicheep, and Gandalf and Samwise Gamgee, still bring a smile to my face whenever my thoughts wander back to them.
Fantasy is a multifaceted genre as richly layered as any imagination can conceive. Yet there are some fantasy tropes I’m not so fond of, and in my own simplistic fashion, divide them between realistic fantasy, on the one hand, and “no limits” fantasy, on the other.
I prefer fantasy that’s anchored in a degree of realism: where the fine line between what a society knows as fact and the facts that a more advanced science may yet reveal probes into the realm of faith. In other words, a fantasy where the rules of nature in the fictional world may be bent and even broken but … but not where they’re abandoned willy-nilly.
In contrast, “no limits” fantasy suspends the rules entirely, and without limits, any tension intended comes across as thin. I mean, if some never-mentioned magic mushroom suddenly rescues our protagonist from his or her terrible fate, then where’s the drama? Unless the fictional world’s own rules are respected, and the solutions to our protagonist’s predicament are found within the world itself (or the rules are distorted for just cause), then I feel let down by the work.
Okay, it is a fine, fine line. Even Tolkien’s use of the Great Eagles was tantamount to a bailout.
Frodo: “Mount Doom is about to explode!”
Sam: “We’re doomed!”
Frodo: “Duh! Uh, wait. What’s that? In the sky…”
Sam: “Huh? Those flapping thingies…”
Frodo: “The Eagles! We’re saved!”
Sam: “What’s an eagle?”
Think about it. Why didn’t Frodo just hitch a ride on Eagle Express from the get-go?
Okay true, it would have made for a rather short and uneventful book.