Storytelling is what makes us human. It allows us to make sense of our world, to verbalise the unknowable and explain our place within it. The power of stories comes from their irreverence. The rules don’t apply to a story. Anything can take place, at any time, involving anyone. The simplicity and freedom allows an entirely new world to form. Their power is astonishing. Each word is carefully chosen, each sentence cautiously formed. Each extra letter brings a new detail added to an inconceivably conceived story. The narrative is expanded piece by piece, an entirely new world created each instant. The power invested in a storyteller is staggering. The only thing that’s necessary is finding someone willing to listen, and that can be a bit of a bugger.
I find that fantasy stories have a special power. They allow us to escape ourselves and live an impossible life in an impossible world. Storytellers create narratives teeming with life. Each aspect purposefully, perfectly crafted, tailored precisely to bring the story to life. Fantasy allows the imagination to run rampant; there are no bounds to what is real.
Now, I’m talking about fantasy explicitly because it’s the genre that I’ve read the most. I love fantasy. Since I was little I’ve been spellbound by those sorts of stories. Knights and Dragons, Heroes and Villains (sometimes I’d root for villain), Mercenaries and wayward travellers; if it had swords and magic chances are I’d be reading it.
My love of fantasy stemmed from my love of history. Whenever we’d visit a new town I’d ask my parents if it had a castle, a fort, something Medieval or something Roman. Most of the time I was disappointed, but when I wasn’t, damn son, that sh*t was LIT (sorry). I’d spend the entire afternoons running around like a hooligan, pretending to fight armies, rescue maidens, defeat dragons, and occasionally do some much needed castle upkeep (can’t have my home falling into disrepair, where would my knights feast?) Then when I got home, I’d do the same, constructing my own castle from which to survey my vast estates. I even made my dad make me a wooden sword and shield so I could spend hours fighting the trees in the garden. A bit messed up if you think about it, I was hitting a tree with a bit of dead tree.
As I got older I turned to books for my fill of fantasy. I was transfixed by the adventures of the fabled heroes in the stories. Entire histories of made-up worlds were created for me to devour and devour them I did. I read and read and read. I stayed up late into the night, falling asleep book clutched in my arms. I then would wake up early in the morning just to continue the story, desperate to find out if the hero had escaped the clutches of the evil sorcerer (or something like that). The pages were more alive to me that the life I was living.
Then as I grew up further still something happened. Slowly and with great sadness I realised I’d never be able to live the lives I was reading about. It was too fantastical, too different, and too perfect. The stories were exquisitely crafted and there was little room for the failings of humanity. As I grew up the adventures that I’d loved as a child became a bit silly, naïve in a way. The insurmountable odds that were overcome by great heroes became farfetched. Life just didn’t work that way. If you were outnumbered, chances are you were dead.
The realities of life put a damper on my love of fantasy for a while. I was jaded and confused; what was the point of an unbelievable story with an unbelievable outcome. The shining, faultless heroes of the stories I’d loved weren’t relatable anymore. I needed something else, something that knew how life worked.
I found the Discworld, and it was glorious.
Terry Pratchett’s style of fantasy just clicked for me. He knew how flawed humanity was and that our motivations don’t change regardless of our reality, even when we have access to magic. The world Pratchett constructed was so different to our own and yet entirely similar. His stories capture the human condition so perfectly but he does so while telling stories of trolls, werewolves, vampires and dwarfs.
Pratchett made me realise that perfect stories are as essential as imperfect people. By using fantasy as a canvas to represent humanity and all its failings he shows that in any place or any time, even in a world that travels through space on the back of a giant turtle, there is still hope of a better tomorrow.
Fantasy has not set rules and can be used to represent any sort of idea of humanity. The perfection of the stories I first read and the imperfection of Pratchett’s world serve the same purpose. They aim to inspire hope, explore humanity, and above all, provide a bloody decent story. Fantasy is and always has been my favourite genre. The adventure, exploration and action, coupled with immense worlds of fantastical events, animals and people are an escape from the mundane. That said, I am a massive nerd, and fantasy is not everyone’s cup of tea. But for me, I’ll take a sword wielding alcoholic over a sadomasochistic stalker any day (you hear that Mr. Grey?).
Although I guess 50 Shades of Grey is a type of fantasy…
Ignore everything I just said.
Photo Credit: Sandrine Néel