We, the fantasy readers.
by Jacqueline Carey
Long before I was a successful fantasy writer, I was a faithful reader. With the recent release of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” a spate of reviews made it obvious that there remain pervasive dismissive attitudes not only toward the entire fantasy genre, but to those who love it. As in any genre, there’s a wide range of quality out there. I’m content to let my work and the work of my fellow authors speak for itself, but I’d like to speak on behalf of the readers, because I am one.
Critics, I’d like you to know that we’re not the monolithic group of stunted adolescents you think we are. I polled my own fans on Facebook, asking “Why do you read fantasy?” I think the array of eloquent, heartfelt responses might surprise you, and I offer the following synthesis, Breakfast Club-style.
“We read fantasy because we crave wonder, a longing no one should ever lose. We read because it is life writ large on a vast canvas, and the timeless arc of the hero’s journey resonates for us. We read for the richly drawn characters and their complex and dynamic relationships. Yes, really. We read because we yearn for adventure, for tales with themes of adversity, honor, duty, loyalty, valor, sacrifice and redemption on an unabashedly grandiose scale. We read for the poignant ache of tragedy when a beloved character perishes, and the trumpeting glory of a hard-fought victory.
In a world that doesn’t always make sense, we read fantasy for the profound catharsis of an epic plot resolved at long last. And sometimes, we read because these stories give us hope and the strength and courage to face obstacles in our own lives. Sometimes, they’re our gateway to proud self-reclamation.
We read because fantasy, unshackled from the constraints of reality, is free to explore the depth and breadth of the human condition; to tackle ethical quandaries from unexpected directions; to ask philosophical questions couched in the form of entertainment; to use allegory to hold up a mirror and make us look at ourselves anew. We read to visit worlds that aren’t, but show us the shape of a world that could be.
We read to catch a glimpse into someone else’s unfettered imagination, marveling in awe at the scope and detail of their creation; we read to spark our own imaginations as our minds transmute words on a page into visions of dragons and unicorns and castles floating in the sky, things we have never seen nor ever shall.
And yes, sometimes we read to escape. We read to escape from childhood trauma, from abuse, from physical pain, from ordinary doldrums, from grief, from the anguish of divorce, from the creeping despair of enduring joblessness, from crippling depression, from the torment of sleepless nights spent in a hospital with a critically ill child.
We read because fantasy offers a beacon of hope in an increasingly cynical and materialistic world, an unapologetic celebration of the abiding power of storytelling and the triumph of good over evil.
We are not just boys. We are girls, too. Shy girls and sexy girls, funny girls and moody girls. We are men and women. We come in every shape, size, color and creed, and we live all over the planet. We’re gay and straight, bisexual and transgendered. We’re your sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas. We’re teachers, doctors and real estate agents; soldiers, plumbers and bakers; students, housewives and lawyers; bankers, dog-walkers and cosmetologists; computer programmers, farmers and artists; scientists, marketers and massage therapists; nurses, librarians and truck drivers.
We just wanted you to know.”