Thoughtful Thursday: All I Need to Know

First off, congratulations to Melanie Simmons who won our giveaway of Karen Chance’s Midnight Daughter. Contact SB Frank to claim your book!

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsI’ve read some reviews lately (on other sites, to which I will not drive traffic by linking) that purport that fantasy books — and genre literature in general — lack merit for adults. They are merely a form of escapism for children, and like all childish things should be put away when one enters adulthood. As almost all the people on this site that I know any demographic data about are adults, it seems that there are a sizeable number of you out there that would disagree with that point of view. I’ve touched on the role of escapism in fantasy before, so today I want to take on the other side of the coin, and talk about the role that fantasy plays in dealing with important issues, or, to put it more lightly, “All I need to know, I learned from reading fantasy novels.”

I’ve learned a lot of things from reading fantasy novels, from the lighthearted “Beware of talking frogs,” to the more serious issues of sexism, racism, and oppression in general. Most recently, I was rereading Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, which I haven’t read in twenty years, and was shocked to find that the issue of “same isn’t equal” that is one of the underlying arguments of my doctoral dissertation, is one that Meg argues so forcefully in the book. Somehow, those words have informed my world view as an adult, even though I couldn’t have traced them back to that source originally.

So, dear readers, What have you learned from reading fantasy novels?  Besides “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.

Post a comment to this post and SB Frank will pick a random commenter to win a hardback copy of Emily Diamand‘s Raider’s Ransom. He’ll announce the winner on Monday, sometime after 5PM, when this drawing will close.

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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  1. I’ve learned a lot about caring for horses. And fighting with swords.
    I wish I had a horse… and a sword…

  2. Fantasy provides a great way to demonstrate the various controversies of the human condition in an environment outside of reality. There fore making complex issues we face much more easy to understand. The problems we face and how we feel about them can be greatly influenced by our social and cultural biases. In fantasy the world is often created from scratch, and the culture the characters participate is completely made up. Racism (or some other human issue) between races in an epic fantasy and the negative impact it has on their world are easily displayed because time is not an issue. An author can literally take a 1000 years to make their point. Also class is also more easily defined in a fantasy. Since the upper class can usually melt your head, since the reader can’t melt peoples heads they obviously immediately identify with the lower class peoples of the story. I’m not a philosophy major, but the parallels that can be drawn from fantasy tot eh real world are infinite and the ability to use fantasy as a tool for learning more about who we are in the real world is significant. If anything I believe fantasy is a much better tool to learn about ourselves than any other genre.

  3. You just HAD to steal my quote Ruth; although I quess I could say “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition” but that might be a little too out there. My favorite might be “Ideas are bullet-proof.”
    And now that you mention it Ruth, I kinda remember that idea in WIT. I need to go read those books again.

  4. From fantasy novels in general, I’ve learned that a book doesn’t have to have any grounding in reality to still be excellent.

    From Steven Brust specifically, I’ve learned that “No matter how subtle the wizard, a knife between his shoulderblades will seriously cramp his style.”

  5. I’ve learned that I really, really want a fire lizard :)

    I’ve also learned that no matter how bad the evil overlord is, as long as there is someone willing to fight, good will win in the end. At least until the next book in the series when it starts all over again. Just don’t push the big red button!

    I’ve learned to never let go of my sense of wonder. And I’ve learned that books will help you make friends.

  6. Fantasy told me that a man’s nobility is measured by his action, that a kind heart can break the strongest stone wall and that a brave soul can burn in the flames of eternity. I discovered I can live a thousand different lives, and still find myself in the traces of a great character. And I learned that everything is possible… if we just have the will to make it happen.

  7. I know it’s not just limited to the genre of fantasy, but I think any tales of courage, even though fictional or not, gives us heroes to aspire to be like.

    The late author of great heroic tale, David Gemmell once witnessed a stranger being assaulted, and David asked himself “what would Stryder do?”. Knowing that obvious answer he fought off the attackers.

    And personally, I don’t know how I could handle reality if I didn’t escape from it almost daily by the best means of travel; a good book.

  8. I’ve also learned that a library card is better than a passport.

  9. Hmm. Well in my family tree, nearly everyone constructs a reality to live in that probably bears as much resemblance to actual truth as your standard fantasy novel. So, I’m not sure that fantasy is any more of an escape than other types of self deceptions that real live people engage in on a daily basis. And, by the way, I’m not counting religious beliefs when I say that.

    But as for actual life lessons: In nearly every fantasy novel I see courage in adversity, love and forgiveness in the face of betrayal, cowardice, self deception and a host of unjustifiable weaknesses that remind me of what not to be and do. I’ve always felt that anybody who claims that speculative fiction isn’t real literature is probably snooty enough to deserve their own Greek tragedy (ahem, which would be in the *coughs* fantasy genre) But maybe that’s just me.

  10. If I ever meet a farm boy of questionable parentage I would like to join his entourage.

  11. @Stephen: Right on, about Greek tragedy being fantasy! A lot of history’s great literature has fantastic elements, and it’s only fairly recently that fantasy has become something to be derided as kids’ stuff. I had an epiphany last year when I realized that Dante’s Divine Comedy was a fantasy novel. Can you imagine if someone published that for the first time today? “Wow, what a Gary Stu. The hero is totally based on the author!”

    I learned, in addition to several things mentioned above, that if you stifle your true self and true abilities, you will make yourself miserable and probably make a huge mess of things.

  12. Expect a history lesson in the first chapter or so, and expect it to be the most boring part of the book, and probably the most unnecessary. I don’t think any fantasy writer can resist creating a history for their imaginative world. Of course, all histories are fraught with wars, and frequently involve the lost of magic…
    So. I must confess that I feel I’m better with the history of Middle Earth than I am of say North America or Europe….:)

  13. Oh! (Sorry, this isn’t meant to be an extra entry.) Also, if someone is different or unique – as in shunned by most of the normal people around, then chances are that they’re going to, well, save us all in some cataclysmic event that has something to do with their magical abilities.
    So, don’t judge.

  14. I learned that I hate the kids who find portals into magic lands. Hate, hate, hate. Hate. Bastards.

  15. I learned that anybody can backstab you, if you are nobility…
    Seriously now, what I’ve learned is that sometimes just acting, working with the “tools” at hand and not overthinking is the best way to solve your problems

  16. William, you almost made me spit my drink all over my monitor. :)

  17. I’ve also learned that just because Michael Whelen did the cover doesn’t mean I’ll love the book.

  18. @Sarah: Similarly, I’ve learned that just because Thomas Canty or John Jude Palencar drew the cover art doesn’t mean I’ll like it.

  19. When you get that feeling in the pit of you stomach and you just know things aren’t right… RUN! Do not walk, do not investigate, just simply run. Run the other way!


    Have to have fun with it.

  20. Congratulations to Raspberry for winning Raider’s Ransom! Contact Stephen for arrangements in getting your prize. Thanks for coming to FantasyLiterature!


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