As a geeky, bespectacled, and isolated 11-year-old, I was swept off my feet by a guy named Harry Potter and plunged into a lifelong love affair with the fantasy genre. I ripped through Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards Series, Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books and Sherwood Smith’s Court Duel Duet. I read the Christianity-centric Lord of the Rings, Narnia Chronicles, and His Dark Materials Series, though with less enthusiasm.
Even after most of my peers had moved on to more adult reading material (or no reading material at all), I came to regard these books as old friends and read them over and over all through junior high, high school, college, and the present, seamlessly moving between books about the philosophical roots of Islamic terror and magic spells.
It was Buffy the Vampire Slayer that bridged the gap between my childhood experience with fantasy and my adult worldview. I was late to the party, having been too young to watch during the original broadcast in the late 90’s and the out of sequence syndicated episodes were only peripherally on my radar in the early Aughts (the end of my high school career). All of Buffy and Angel were out on DVD when I bought BtvS Season 1 to prevent myself from falling asleep before finishing my crushing load of Arabic homework and/or going crazy in student housing.
A miniscule and diffuse number of friends have shared in my love affair with Harry, Buffy, and the rest, but most of them lost interest over time. By and large, fantasy isn’t something consumed proudly and publicly by the bulk of my acquaintance. I can count the number of people I talked to about Harry Potter in college on one hand – and my email was firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the past I considered this a good thing, because I couldn’t explain why it affected me so deeply. Had it become a widely known facet of my personality, it probably would have been grounds for classification as, at the very least, someone who couldn’t be taken seriously – which is ironic, because the fantasy realm is where it’s imminently possible to hash out the most serious thoughts about life/death, good/evil, and the pursuit of the good life.
Fiction in general invites the reader (or watcher, depending on the delivery mechanism) to interpret elements of a story metaphorically and/or allegorically in order to find deeper meanings within the text. Fantasy is especially rich source material because it eschews not only historical fact, but also what is known to be possible in the real world as well. Not only did this story not happen, it couldn’t ever happen in this reality. Conflicts are magnified to epic proportions, allowing for easy access to each facet of an issue. Your high school boyfriend doesn’t just turn into a jerk after you sleep with him, he actually loses his soul and tries to suck the world into Hell (BtvS Season 2, natch). Now, what have we learned?
Fantasy invites us to explore different dimensions of meaning on a larger than life scale in a universe unbounded by what Buffy might call “our Earth logic”.
So, why does this matter when we actually do live in a universe bounded by Earth logic? It matters, because fiction suggests hypothetical structures for our worldview and thus shapes the way in which we perceive and interact with reality. It is important that the drafting board upon which we test the bounds of our Earth logic be big enough for them to stretch until they break. So that when our fantasies stop being reflections of reality and come to create realities of their own, they are worthy.