When I was in college, I had professor poo-poo all over the entire fantasy genre, and it bothered me greatly. There is nothing more pretentious to me than someone who scoffs and claims that all fantasy is just fairy tales with no deeper meanings or greater substance. Now, of course, there is plenty of fantasy that, to be fair, is pretty shallow as far as deeper meanings go and just exists to provide easy to digest entertainment/escapism (and there’s nothing wrong with that), BUT that can also be said for all the other genres in fiction. These snobs don’t realize that fantasy can be an excellent lens through which writers can critique the world around them and even the everyday social issues that we face in our own modern time.
Fantasy is a genre without limitations. It’s imagination that is allowed to take any form, and with such freedom of expression, the use of fantasy as allegory, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is actually quite common.
J.K. Rowling’s Death Eaters are often compared to Nazi’s or extreme racists due to the way they are portrayed as being set on systematically suppressing those they believe to be beneath themselves (the muggle-born), which is a situation in the Harry Potter universe that no one has any control over.
Literary scholars are always arguing that C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia is just one great big allegory for Christianity, with Jesus being represented by Aslan. Now, technically C.S. Lewis denied such a comparison. Still, one only has to read some of his other works, such as The Screwtape Letters, to see that C.S. Lewis’s religious ideology influenced him as a writer, whether directly or indirectly.
Fantasy isn’t anything new. Many argue that modern fantasy got its roots with J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit and the proceeding Lord of the Rings, but his influences were from mythology and old folktales. People often forget that mythology and folk tales were often told as parables to convey a deeper meaning or teach a moral. Mythology left to us by the ancient Greeks is highly respected and constantly used in analogy by almost every literary scholar at one point in time or another, but how is it that telling the fantasy stories of the past is okay, but fantasy stories of today are rubbish?
You want to know who a great fantasy author was? Shakespear. What of the Tempest? What of A Midsummer Night’s Dream? There were witches in Macbeth and ghosts in Hamlet. Wouldn’t writing about such things today make one a fantasy author? Yet, no one scoffs at Shakespeare’s contributions to the literary world. There have been countless scholarly works dedicated to analyzing the deeper meanings behind these famous plays that would be fantasy by today’s standards.
So old fantasy is okay because it’s classic, it’s canon, but new fantasy is just a bunch of writers with overactive imaginations? Mark my word, in one hundred years, two hundred years; the fantasy of today will be the old myths and legends of the future. Take H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, a fictional creation from Lovecraft’s own imagination. Yet, this creation has become ubiquitous in songs, in games, in pop-art, in other writers’ literature, and even in cinema. The made-up fantasies of today will be the old myths of tomorrow.
Even fantasy in cinema is used to broach and analyze controversial topics such as 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which took great inspiration from the Watts Riots’ real-life events. Or Pan’s Labyrinth, that delved into the psyche of a young girl surviving through escapism in a war-torn country filled with violence and hatred.
Even fairy tales served a deeper purpose than just shallow entertainment.
The powerful imaginations of writers are not something to be discredited or dismissed. Writers can show you new ways to imagine old problems and offer you a new perspective through fantasy that you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. Fantasy can be a powerful means to hold up the mirror to humanity and really force us to look at ourselves.
What do you guys think? Is fantasy just a bunch of rubbish? Can fantasy be used to convey a powerful message or idea? Have you read a fantasy book or seen a fantasy movie that really made you stop and think in a way that you never had before?