Bestselling author Kazuo Ishiguro isn’t known for writing fantasy, so when his novel The Buried Giant featured, among other surprising things, ogres, it caused quite a stir. Ishiguro commented on the reaction:

“I was slightly shocked by the level of prejudice, sheer prejudice, against ogres … I couldn’t understand it. It’s just another imaginary thing, like any other imaginary thing.”

Well Mr Ishiguro, I share your perplexity. Among my friends I am the only one who openly admits to a preference for fantasy fiction. In fact, most of my friends actively shun the genre. Which is curious because they all adore HARRY POTTER, the most loyal disciples from book 1 through to 7. Why, for so many people, is HARRY POTTER the only fantasy they will ever read or admit to enjoying?

To solve this conundrum, I took the simplest and laziest approach and asked my friends on social media. My findings were as follows:

#1 (and breaking news): Fantasy has a geeky/nerdy image. OK, so no one’s shocked by this, but it does help explain the conundrum. Through widespread appreciation, HARRY POTTER, Twilight, and A Game of Thrones have managed to secure acceptance by society at large. They have shed their geeky skin like the girl in a teen film who, on removing her glasses, is revealed to be a beauty. Suddenly, it’s OK to fancy her.

#2: Fantasy is for children. This mistaken perception explains many adults’ unease with the genre. Children enjoy fantasy and magic, but as we grow up we leave them behind (not many grown-ups believe in Father Christmas). Perhaps for some people, casting off these childlike beliefs and entering a serious world of adulthood extends to all fantasy. It’s embarrassing to say you like reading about dragons because they aren’t real, which means they aren’t serious, which, in turn, means that you aren’t a serious adult. But I find it bizarre that these fearful people read any fiction at all. As Ishiguro says, the ogre is “just another imaginary thing, like any other imaginary thing.” It strikes me as just as embarrassing to weep for a fictional human (a figment of someone else’s weird imagination), as it does to weep for an elf.

#3: Fantasy novels are always huge series. A simple and unfortunate misunderstanding of the genre.

#4: Some people just don’t enjoy fantastical creatures and magic. At this point I pounced on the aforementioned double standard — the dragon in the room if you will.

If you don’t like magic and fantasy creatures,” I said, “why do you like Harry Potter?

My friends’ answers were well-reasoned. They like that HARRY POTTER is set in our world, there is an explanation for everything, and there’s a reason why we (as “muggles”) can’t see and hear the fantasy world. They also like the school setting and that they could relate to Harry and his friends. In other words, Harry Potter is believable. Which is extraordinary because, let’s face it — it’s not. If my friends’ can relate to Harry, surely there are other fantasy characters they can relate to. There are other fantasy novels set in schools and set in our world (many in fact).

I am forced to conclude that when people say they don’t like fantasy, what they are really saying is, they don’t want to try it.

The other day I offered someone an olive (stay with me). They said, “I don’t like olives.” 

When I asked when they had last tried an olive, they said, “when I was young.

I pressed them to try another olive but they weren’t having it. My point is — people are unwilling to try. But what’s particularly perplexing is that, unlike my olive-fearing friend, many people who claim to hate fantasy tried it when they were younger and they liked it. If I were to transpose this dilemma into the olive conversation it would go something like this:

Please, try an olive,” I say.

My friend, politely declining the proffered olive, says, “no thank you. I did try one of those when I was younger and I absolutely loved it. Best thing I’ve ever eaten. But, I have an overwhelming suspicion that it was only that particular olive that I liked and all other olives just aren’t for me. Goodbye.”

Do you have fantasy-haters amongst your friends? Have you ever been successful in converting them? How do you bring them to the light?!

One random commenter will choose a book from our stacks. Winners are notified in the comments, so make sure to check the notification box or remember to check back in about 10 days. If we don’t choose a winner within 2 weeks, please bug Marion.


  • Katie Burton

    KATIE BURTON (on FanLit's staff September 2015 -- September 2018) was a solicitor in London before becoming a journalist. She was lucky enough to be showered with books as a child and from the moment she had The Hobbit read to her as a bedtime story was hooked on all things other-worldy. Katie believes that characters are always best when they are believable and complex (even when they aren't human) and is a sucker for a tortured soul or a loveable rogue. She loves all things magical and the more fairies, goblins and mystical creatures the better. Her personal blog is Nothing if Not a Hypocrite.