"[The fairy tale] is accused of giving children a false impression of the world they live in. But I think no literature that children could read gives them less of a false impression. I think what profess to be realistic stories for children are far more likely to deceive them. I never expected the real world to be like the fairy tales. I think that I did expect school to be like the school stories. The fantasies did not deceive me: the school stories did. All stories in which children have adventures and successes which are possible, in the sense that they do not break the laws of nature, but almost infinitely improbable, are in more danger than the fairy tales of raising false expectations." (Lewis 37)*Note: I am referring to fantasy & the fairy tale as one - prior to the publication of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, "fairy tale" still referred to fantastic work. I would argue that fairy tale and fantasy, while having somewhat separate elements, at least function similarly, especially with regard to this quote.
1. Reading YA contemporaries as a teen hurt. I had a love/hate relationship with a lot of contemporaries, and one I particularly remember was The Truth About Forever. Most of you probably don't know this, but in high school I worked as a night cook at Uncle Ernie's Pizzeria. My experience there was nothing like the kitchens Macy worked in as a part of the Wish catering crew. The most I got were people who joked about sausages, about my age or where I lived. The workers were likable in their own way, but they were not the Wish catering crew. There was no Wes. There was no pretty, sensitive guy. In fact, when my friends bought me a Twilight movie ticket, I could not go with them because I was still working and I smelled like oil and crusted red pepper flakes... and when my teacher/mentor finally visited me, I could not even sit down with him because for some reason the phone wouldn't stop ringing that day! There were no quiet, happy moments of revelation. And that book, among others, made me long for them - made me hate where I lived, made me wish for things that while probable, are probably never going to happen. As C.S. Lewis wrote, those books raised my expectations of the life I was currently living; they are "more liable to become 'fantasies' in the clinical sense than fantastic stories are" (38). Even now I sometimes struggle with reading contemporaries because it can be easy to forget that it's fiction, that the story and characters ended with those final words. I'm happy with my life, but the longing persists. I do not long for fantastical worlds; instead I appreciate them for their creation. And that is the line that gets blurred in contemporary novels (for me).
"Do fairy tales teach children to retreat into a world of wish-fulfillment--'fantasy' in the technical psychological sense of the word--instead of facing the problems of the real world?" (Lewis 37)2. Fantasies allow authors to explore concepts and aspects about our lives in a way that contemporaries cannot always. Many contemporaries which tackle tough topics are immediately dismissed as issue books, are they not? But if you had a fantasy novel with the same subject embedded into its world, people seem - at least to me - more likely to discuss the issue at hand, to not label that novel as "boring" or "unworthy" of their time.
"The major genre (perhaps nonsense verse is just as major) whose development is largely the work of children's literature is fantasy. Adult fantasies of a high order of course exist. But the form seems, for reasons we shall later examine, peculiarly suite to children; and children seem peculiarly suited to the form. Consequently we can trace a long line of fantasies, growing constantly in expressiveness and intricacy. MacDonald, Carroll, Collodi, Baum, de la Mare, Barrie, Lagerlof, Grahame, Ayme, Annie Schmidt, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Saint-Exupery, Rodari, Juster, Hoban--these are a few of the many writers who have found children's fantasy well fitted to statements about human life that are conveyable in no other way." (Fadiman 11)Furthermore, fantasies are expressing these concepts in ways that few other stories can without eliciting eye-rolls or dismissive criticism on their "depth." In the beginning, Harry Potter was referred to as something deviant, and now it's got several analysts focusing on its post-modern and Christian themes. There is perhaps a sense of wish-fulfillment in slipping into that world, but there is no escaping the real-life messages that the metaphors of the deathly hallows and their ilk convey.
"...when we read a good fairy tale we are obeying the old precept 'Know thyself.'" (Lewis 36)3. Fantasies are timeless. It's the fact that they are fantasies, that they are so clearly fictional that it's so much easier to consider these novels as timeless classics. Contemporaries are great at pointing out issues of the day, and fantasies, to some extent, will suffer from the same problem of being rooted in issues of the day, but since they involve a variety of symbols and fantastic metaphors to make their point, somehow I imagine their messages can be molded and reformed over the ages much more easily. And at the end of the day, do you remember the epic journeys facing dragons and unnameable creatures that have survived and been made into legend and myth, or do you remember the game Macy placed with Wes so that they could know each other better?
4. Fantasies are fun and engage your imagination. I mean, come on: dragons versus sensitive, tattooed boy. Who wins in the epic scale of imagination?
**Note: I do love my contemporaries (especially The Truth about Forever)! Even if I come across otherwise. (I would also like to note that I am being totally tongue-in-cheek with #4 because it takes a lot of imagination to come up with the characters, situations, places, etc. in contemporary too.)
There are more reasons, but I thought that this post was long enough. Your turn now! Why do you love fantasy? Why do you love contemporary? Do you prefer one over the other and why? Or perhaps your favorite genre is something else -- what and why?