Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Flights of Fantasy

Do you like fantasy? Or does it drive you up the wall to even consider reading a novel about vampires, sorcerers, or hobbits?

Whatever you feel about the fantasy genre, apparently you're not alone. People seem to be hard-wired to either love it or hate it, according to a recent psychological study performed at Kansas State University. (The irony of doing a study about fantasy stories in Kansas does not escape me. But if it bothers you, just click your heels together three times and say, "There's no place like the non-fiction shelves at the library. There's no place like the non-fiction shelves...")

As a fantasy lover, I am fully in favor of believing that I am far more imaginative than a non-fantasy person. I also tend to believe I'm prettier than they are, more fun, and more likely to become a millionaire. None of that may be true, but remember, I like to fantasize. *wink*

Seriously, though, the study poses an interesting question: Why do we care if some people like fantasy, while others don't? Loving a good paranormal romance isn't exactly in the same category as drug addiction, murder, or pedophilia. The fantasy genre isn't going to cause the downfall of humankind.

And yet, I do feel cautious introducing my love of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia to people I've just met, because it can be an invitation to condescension: "Oh, you like those novels, do you? Well, I can't get into them. I prefer [insert pretentious literary novelist here]." This shouldn't happen, but it does, and all too often. Even the study summary describes fantasy fans as the fantasy prone, as though we fit in with the people who are prone to violence, prone to bizarre sexual behaviors, prone to mental problems.

We fantasy lovers are not prone at all; we are up and moving all the time, sometimes physically and sometimes mentally. But life doesn't catch us lying down. I can attest to that personally.

The reality is, some of us do dream of what never was and say, "Why not?" And really, why not? There's nothing wrong with a little fantasy to take a break from your reality. And fantasy can lead to an embrace of life, rather than a flight from it. It's like expecting magic wherever you go. The magic may not always show up, but sometimes it does. If you're looking for it, you won't miss it. What a great way to live!

So, what do you think of fantasy? Do you love it? Hate it? How do you view people who like fantasy? And what do you think of the decision to do a psychological study on the topic? (It was for a student's doctoral dissertation, and I don't mind it. But it seems kind of funny to me. What do you think?)

For more on this topic, read my source article on MSNBC.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.


  1. I'm no psychologist, but to me it seems fantasy hate is hardly alone in getting this kind of absurdly reductionist treatment. I've lost count of the people I've met who think that people who write genres they don't enjoy are weird / sick / wasting their time, and yet their own tastes are no better. Often, I think opinions about a genre's worthiness or value are just backfilled to justify one's own personal preferences.

    I can certainly get behind the dislike of certain fantasy works, since so much of it is derivative and unimaginative, but I think there are great stories to be told in any genre.

  2. Good point! All genres get criticized from time to time, and by extension, the people who read them are getting criticized too. But it's just a personal sense of taste, and we're all entitled to decide what we do and don't like to read. And a great story is a great story, no matter what genre it is. :)

  3. Definitely. And equally important to remember is that bad stories can come out of any genre too. I've read some truly execrable, self-indulgent literary dross in my day. Having literary pretensions doesn't magically bestow quality on a book.

  4. Yo! What's with the [insert pretentious literary novelist here] remark?

    Why precede the word "literary" with the word "pretentious"?

    Fantasy is not separate from literary fiction. Paul Auster's New York Trilogy is both fantasy-based and literary. So too is Tolkein's and C.S. Lewis' work.

    Much of all fiction is fantastic.

    But junk is just that. The media moguls declare that "paranormal" is popular this year, so the writer lemmings of this world suddenly proclaim themselves privy to the preternatural.

    Soon enough, though, the law of supply and demand takes over, the market gluts itself on paranormal junk, and we're on to the next "more of the same" bait biting.

  5. I think Chipper was implying that while not all literary fiction is necessarily pretentious, those who turn their nose up at fantasy fiction as lowbrow may be more likely to read pretentious authors.

  6. Fair question, Anthony. To clarify, I am not putting down the entire literary genre, because there are many good novels that fall into the "literary" category. Nor do I want to suggest that a literary novel can't involve fantasy or that a fantasy novel can't be literary. I agree with you that the fantastic is an important element in so much fiction of all types. I was trying to address the issue that there are some readers out there (and some writers too) who pretentiously speak as though their preferred genre is somehow better than other genres, rather than admitting that genre in itself is simply a matter of the reader's personal preference. No genre is automatically higher in quality than another genre. However, we can look at things such as plotting, characterization, theme, style, tone, and all the other elements of writing to judge the relative quality of a piece of fiction. It's not genre that makes something good (or bad), but the writing itself that determines quality.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Anthony! I appreciate a good discussion. :)

  7. I adore fantasy...that's why I write it. And if people want to think I'm weird then I will just correct them. Excentricity is in a league of their own. And they're the ones missing out. :)


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