How Fantasy Reveals the Things We Wish Were Easy

Discussion Post

Fantasy has a special ability to help us see our own (“real”) world through a different lens.  Tolkien talks a lot about the power of myth and fantasy in “On Fairy Stories.” Sometimes making something seem “unfamiliar” can help us see it more clearly, or prompt us to look at it anew.  I believe fantasy, however, also helps us see what we wish were true, or what we wish were simpler to do or to know. Based on trends in fantasy, here are some things I think books indicate we wish were more straightforward.

Love and Finding “The One”

One of life’s most pressing questions might be “How do I know I found ‘the one?'” You can read a lot of real-world articles about this with suggestions and anecdotes from couples’ personal experiences.  However, some fantasy makes the matter quite straightforward: There’s a mating bond, of course!  In these circumstances, the characters know unequivocally that they’re meant to be with someone.  Think Twilight and imprinting or the A Court of Thorns and Roses series.  And if readers have problems with any of the ships in the book, tough luck. The mating bond says the characters are destined for each other. No questions necessary.

Birth Control

Love can be tricky without effective birth control, though, and fantasy reveals this worry by providing characters with many variants on safe and effective birth control methods.  In the real world, women looking for birth control might have to try many different brands until they find one without bad side effects for them.  They have to take the pill consistently every day.  In some circumstances, they might get pregnant anyway.  Condoms might also be a hassle.  Not in fantasy.  From taking a single herbal tea supplement to wearing a magic charm around your neck, birth control is simple. It’s never inconvenient and it never fails.  Just put on the necklace and forget about it!

The Existence of God

Fantasy give authors a lot of room to explore questions of religion, but interestingly many authors do not choose to portray religion the way it often plays out in the real world–where we have many different religions, but no one can 100% prove their god(s) exist(s).In fantasy. we tend to know.  Some authors go the route of also allowing their characters to know.  Tamora Pierce’s characters, for example, literally meet their gods.  They know they exist and their worshiping them is not in vain.  Other authors keep their characters from being able to confirm the existence of the gods, but they will confirm it for their readers.  In Tolkien’s works, for example, characters don’t personally meet Iluvatar, but we as readers know he definitely exists.  He’s not simply a theory that the characters have.

Our Purpose in Life

Prophecies pepper fantasy. Though their primary purpose seems to be either giving hope to the people at large (“Someone will save you”) or warning the villain (“You’re not actually omnipotent”), they also have a great side effect for the person the a particular prediction is about: They reveal that person’s life purpose.

Granted, this can put a lot of pressure on someone.  “Oh, by the way, your duty is to save the world from enslavement and destruction, and if you fail, that’s it. No one else is going to save us, because the saving thing is your job.  If you can’t do it, no one can. Good luck!”  I wouldn’t blame someone for hiding under a rock and praying the prophecy actually applies to someone else.  However, I think most of us do have some desire just to know.  What are we supposed to do in the world? What can we do that would make a difference?  Maybe it’s egotistical, but there’s something enviable about knowing you’re needed for something and that it’s for something big and important.  Small acts of kindness are also valuable, but fantasy shows us we often dream of having a larger role in life.  Just knowing we have one can be enough of a comfort to offset the fear of failure.

What other patterns have you noticed in fantasy?


13 thoughts on “How Fantasy Reveals the Things We Wish Were Easy

  1. Stefanie says:

    Oh I love this post, I really do! I had never thought to look at fantasy this way, but you’re so right, it does reveal a lot about what we are wanting. What I feel it all comes down to is certainty (about love, religion, destiny) because that is something that we as people never really have. I agree that life would in certain cases be a lot easier if you knew with certainty who is your soulmate, if the god you believe is real or not, and if you are doing what you should be, or just even what you should be trying to do. Life would be so different if we had certainty about all of these things.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana says:

      I think certainty is a big part of it. A lot of “big life decisions” that can be stressful in life are often made a lot less stressful in fantasy through means that make the “right” decision clear to the characters. There’s no worry you’re marrying the wrong person or worshiping the wrong god or whatever.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Risa says:

    One thing that has struck me as a fantasy theme is the clear divide between good and evil. There are, of course, exceptions. But good and evil definitely play a major part in most fantasy stories. There really aren’t two ways of looking at it. Tolkien is the prime example. And most quest stories have this theme going.

    Also, do we have something about flying? Are we drawn to it so much? Why do we find dragons alluring? And unicorns? And mermaids? I believe it is because we are always drawn to mysteries. Could there be anything else?

    (Nice post, by the way!:) )

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana says:

      That’s a good point. I think recently more fantasy authors have been exploring moral ambiguity, but there’s definitely a large trend of clear divides between good and evil–and of course a reliance on tropes to identify the bad guys. (They dress all in black and live in ominous, ill-lit towers!) I kind of love it, though, so I’m not really complaining.

      And, yes, magical creatures! Maybe we just like the idea of things that we can’t have. But there’s also the classic twist: talking animals! Because who doesn’t want to talk to their pet cat?


  3. TeacherofYA says:

    I never thought about it…and maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to fantasy.
    Because those are things that matter to me in everyday life: G-d, soul mates, fate…
    Great post and thanks for sharing your findings. A paper could be done on this topic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Tamora Pierce’s books amuse me because they’re supposed to be realistically medieval and gritty with sex and violence, but then there’s magical birth control.


    • Briana says:

      It is funny! Some of it’s just pure wish fulfillment. A 100% effective birth control tea of herbal supplements is kind of believable. A necklace with a magic charm is obviously someone’s dream. (Besides the fact, I guess, it’s clear you’re wearing a birth control charm, which some people might not like.) :p


  4. Greg says:

    Some nice points here. I hadn’t really thought about it before but you’re right about the mating bond- sometimes they don’t have much choice, they’re just meant o to be together one way or another! And it is those big questions that are so fascinating, and probably why many of love the genre. It explores them. I like your point about God and Iluvatar also.

    The previous comments are also thought provoking. Life would certainly be easier if we had certainty, as Stefanie points out. Maybe we do long for that. And mythical creatures like Risa said- another one.


    • Briana says:

      Certainty is a big one, I think! We really do want to know we’re not “messing up our lives.” On the other hand, maybe life would be kind of boring if we were too certain? I think that’s why most fantasy novels don’t combine all of these things; you need a little uncertainly about something.


  5. Got My Book says:

    I read an interesting article recently about how people don’t really get divorced in most Fantasy either.

    I would really like to read more books about people who experience a mating bond and decide that they just can’t be with that person. My Dad taught me that while loving someone is important in marriage, it isn’t enough alone to make a relationship work over the long term.

    Care to Matriculate?: Ten Top Schools of Science & Magic


    • Briana says:

      That’s really interesting. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I can’t really think of any divorced people in fantasy. There must be some, but they’re not prominent.

      I believe that A Court of Thorns and Roses mentions that some people experience the mating bond and actually are not suited for each other, but it’s a general reference to people who are not actual characters in the story, so it’s definitely not explored. It is is an interesting concept because if the mating bond can be “wrong,” then what’s the point? Most stories seem to use it to indicate something about soul mates/true love. Theoretically, though, one could exist that’s just more along the terms of “your genetics would work really well together” and has nothing to do with whether the people are romantically inclined towards each other. (The issue with the ACOTAR thing is that it seems to actually be about love, but for some reason it doesn’t work out 100% for everyone. It’s kind of unclear.)


  6. Reg @ She Latitude says:

    I love this post! Fantasy is probably my favourite genre of all but I’ve never really thought about why I like it beyond “MAGIC YAS!!!”, and you’ve definitely listed some of the underlying reasons why it’s my go-to escape. The whole “purpose in life” thing is definitely a big one, especially as I’m now in my 20s and it feels like I’m already ~supposed~ to know what to do with life but I’m just barely making it out.😛


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