What exactly is fantasy?
The unreal, the abstract, a flight of imagination, the attempt of a writer to stretch the limits of human potential and create beings similar to humans but who have super-strengths and places, the kind that don’t physically exist in this world…
And what does it inspire in its readers?
A dream, a hope, a possibility however improbable, that for a while they could exist in a different world and experience feelings that they don’t get to experience in this world.
When we pick up a fantasy novel/novella through which we consciously step into a world that is different enough to be safe, yet similar enough to hold up the suspension-of-disbelief, we enjoy it – for through its characters we experience a whole range of the experiences – most which fall out of our normal everyday range.
This is why adults enjoy fantasy that’s closer to reality. As popular fantasy author Robin Hobb puts it, fantasy that lowers the threshold of disbelief, wins more readers.
Good fantasy, Hobb believes, is about “lowering the threshold of disbelief so the reader can step right into the book and not feel blocked out by something that’s impossible or at first glance silly. And I think silly is more dangerous than impossible.” – Source: “Robin Hobb: ‘Fantasy has become something you don’t have to be embarrassed about’”
My personal experience with reading fantasy began with the Harry Potter series. The story introduces Potter as normal kid growing up in a normal world, albeit in an abnormal family. It didn’t start with dragons, goblins, mages, and other fantastical creatures. The entire series appears plausible because it didn’t break away from the real world altogether.
Then I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I read it, because it is considered to be the bible of fantasy. However, despite the cliched argument that underdogs make excellent heroes, I couldn’t connect with the story wholeheartedly, and when I try to look for a reason – I find one in Frodo being the protagonist. As an adult, I found it difficult to accept a hobbit as a hero. My suspension-of-disbelief wasn’t strong right since the beginning.
Next I read A Song of Ice and Fire by G.R.R. Martin. The story enveloped me almost as soon as it began. The prolog of the first book tired me out somewhat, but right from the first chapter, the story pulled me in. I was in a world that was similar to mine – no perceptible magic, some reference to the Others (that left me curious,) and as the characters that I could admire, love, hate, loathe, exhibited loyalty, cunning, anger, violence…I could feel their emotions.
I read all the three books as a grownup and I think that the reasons that made me enjoy them was that the worlds they were set in were extremely believable as were the characters that inhabited it. The fantastical elements didn’t overpower reason, and the worlds had certain rules that their inhabitants understood and I, as a reader, learned.
I read fantasy because it allows me to live more, experience more, and imagine more. It enriches my life by expanding the reach of my dreams. Other adults too, I assume, read fantasy not to escape their immediate reality, but to expand the scope of their experiences by pushing them out of the boundaries of our realm and to experiment in another. Adults read fantasy to enliven their lives.