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.
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?