Fantasy Readers Will Save the World
I love fantasy. Always did. I’m proud to read it, proud to write it. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that not everyone shares my enthusiasm. I was far into adulthood when I realized that there are two kinds of people: Those who like fantasy, and those who are dead inside. Naah, but seriously – the fantasy haters exist! I have this from reliable sources. I’ve been told about parents in bookstores, popping in to pick something up for their teenagers. Frowning parents who proclaim with misplaced pride: “She should read proper books, not fantasy …” (Cross my heart, this happens!) Apparently, fantasy is not proper literature. It is unrealistic escapism. Clichéd rubbish, exaggerated and infantile, and certainly nothing for their child to numb their mind on.
Their attitude is so outdated they might as well be speaking Latin. It reeks of mold. Criticizing fantasy for being unrealistic is like criticizing the Himalayas for being steep. It’s obvious, it’s true, and it’s an utterly meaningless point to make, serving only to demonstrate people’s failure to grasp the fundamental purpose of stories, and the reason fantasy consumption is swelling like a sourdough on steroids.
But you have to forgive them. Most likely, they grew up at a slower pace, with suffering at a safe distance, in a world that would always endure. The ‘80s films they watched were eerily innocent (I know, I grew up with them, too). Even grim movies would be cute by today’s standards. Today, we are drowning in dystopian dramaturgy. In bloody matters of life and death. The difference is remarkable – a gaping generational gorge in storytelling. Today’s youth are presented with a rawer reality. Often brutal, dark, corrupt and polluted. A world that needs saving. And they love it! This seems to worry the fantasy knockers, but it absolutely shouldn’t. Here’s why:
The challenges young people face today are far bigger than ever before: Antimicrobial resistance, surveillance, global warming, water shortage, take your pick … It’s huge. So enormous in fact, that my generation has failed to deal with it. So who’s going to clear up this mess? Small thinkers? No. We need people who are intimately familiar with big problems. Yes, fantasy is big. It’s epic. And surprisingly often it’s about saving the world. But guess what? Saving the world is not a fictional problem anymore. It’s harsh reality.
Stories have taught us to survive. That’s why we love them. That’s why we’ve been sharing them ever since we grunted around campfires. We have evolved, but stories evolve too. They change with us. So when certain stories gain popularity, my theory is that they are fuelled by a collective, subconscious understanding. They resonate because these are the stories we need right now. These are the new tools for survival. Fantasy is expanding, and it will keep expanding, because the genre prepares us to tackle our new problems. The really big ones.
Realism loves to tell us that mankind is vulnerable, pitiful, selfish and inadequate. Fantasy however, pulls us out of the gutter, saying: “Yes, but this is our potential! This is what we are capable of! This is what we have it in ourselves to become!” Fantasy gives us motivation and inspiration to stand on our own two feet. To live. To care.
So personally, I am extremely grateful that there’s a new generation coming, fostered on so-called escapism. They have read enough dystopias to know that governments can lie. They have read enough science fiction to know that not all technology is progress. They have read enough fantasy to believe that a single human being can make a difference. And with a growing awareness of diversity, they are learning something even more important: That we are all equal, regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, and that was not common knowledge among their grandparents!
Why is fantasy so insanely popular? It doesn’t matter! Let’s just be glad that it is! It’s more than fine, it’s necessary. Young people are reading, playing and binge-watching fantasy because they have to. Because they will inherit a world that’s coming apart at the seams, and they will be forced to save our asses. Fantasy teaches them to be heroes, and we need heroes like never before. We need people with the courage and will to be larger than life. We need epic. We need hope.
So this is your time, dear fantasy lovers. You are the ones who will survive the zombie apocalypse.
Siri Pettersen made her sensational debut in 2013 with the Norwegian publication of Odin’s Child, the first book in The Raven Rings trilogy, which has earned numerous awards and nominations at home and abroad. Siri has a background as a designer and comics creator. Her roots are in Finnsnes and Trondheim, but she now lives in Oslo, where you’re likely to find her in a coffee shop. According to fellow writers, her superpower is “mega motivation”—the ability to inspire other creative souls.