What is Fantasy Literature?
For about a month now I’ve been meaning to post some thoughts on a discussion my Fantasy Lit class had at the beginning of the semester back in September. And also to continue that discussion, of course. The topic of said discussion was “what is fantasy literature?”
Personally, I consider fantasy to be a work that has non-realistic elements/characters in the story. So the setting doesn’t necessarily need to be fantastical, but some element of the story does. The problem I’ve found with this notion is it is too general for fantasy literature. What differs fantasy from other fantastical works, such as fairy tales, or fairy stories?
The major conclusion I’ve come to for that question is the depth of the story. In fairy stories, fantastical things just happen, like magic, with out the need for an explanation or laws that govern what can be accomplished. Meanwhile, in fantasy stories, there are those laws and restrictions on what can and cannot be done with the use of magic (since that is really the major element at work in these stories).
Another element of fantasy is that the fantasy story depicts the best and worst qualities of humanity in some fashion. For example, that love is the greatest magic humanity possesses, such as in Harry Potter. This is part of what I mean by depth of the story. Fairy stories do not delve too deeply into subjects of this nature. The fairy story is meant to be light and trivial; it’s there for fun, while fantasy is meant to show readers something significant about themselves.
The last element I will touch on for now is a work of fantasy is grounded in reality, which provides the reader with a foothold in which to base themselves. A reality that shows us something familiar. Every book of Harry Potter begins with Harry in his aunt and uncle’s home before he is transported to Hogwarts; the hobbits are grounded in the Shire — even though we are not hobbits, there are recognizable human traits the hobbits exhibit in the beginning of the novel. This reality acts as a stepping stone to draw the reader into the story without distancing the reader from the characters, despite the abnormal setting.
There are dozens of dozens of more details that we could discuss, but from my experiences so far, these are the major distinctions for what fantasy literature is.
What do you think?