Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Why I Love Fantasy

People have always asked me what it is about Tolkien's books that I love so much.  Maybe it's the characters, the themes, the overall voice...honestly, I never really have a really comprehensive answer.  Sometimes when people find out about my love for all things Middle-earth I get the response, "so you like fantasy, huh?"  Maybe that's part of it, because, yes I do like fantasy.

But I also love medieval literature (authors like Sir Thomas Malory and Chr├ętien de Troyes).  Middle-earth kind of incorporates both of those elements seamlessly into the book we know and love.

In this article, I'm going to attempt to articulate why I love the fantasy aspect of Middle-earth so much.

I think I love fantasy for many of the same reasons as Tolkien, and since he was a much better writer than I am, I'm going to let him explain a bit.  He says on fantasy (from his essay On Faerie Stories):

"I use Fantasy for this purpose: in a sense, that is, which combines with its older and higher use as an equivalent of Imagination the derived notions of “unreality” (that is, of unlikeness to the Primary World), of freedom from the domination of observed “fact,” in short of the fantastic. I am thus not only aware but glad of the...images of things that are not only “not actually present,” but which are indeed not to be found in our primary world at all, or are generally believed not to be found there."

One of the reasons writing fantasy is so amazing is that you are not chained down by the facts of the real world.  I think for this reason it is easier to express things in a more artful way.  For example, in The Silmarillion, Luthien casts a spell through song which cleanses an entire island from the dirt of Sauron.  In a real life story this would be laughable and completely implausible.  But because Tolkien--to an extent--invents the rules for his world, he is able to conjure such beautiful imagery.  

"...the images are of things not in the primary world (if that indeed is possible) is a virtue, not a vice. Fantasy (in this sense) is, I think, not a lower but a higher form of Art, indeed the most nearly pure form, and so (when achieved) the most potent..."

Being able to think up things all on your own instead of borrowing from the real world really makes fantasy the most original and creative of all works.

"Fantasy, even of the simplest kind, hardly ever succeeds in Drama, when that is presented as it should be, visibly and audibly acted. Fantastic forms are not to be counterfeited. Men dressed up as talking animals may achieve buffoonery or mimicry, but they do not achieve Fantasy..."

This one is for my friend.  He's the one I talked about in previous posts who is always visualizing books in terms of a movie.   Here, Professor Tolkien clearly states that fantasy cannot be translated without losing a sense of realism.  (Yet another reason The Silmarillion should not be made into a movie...)  One of the most wonderful things about the written word and about fantasy specifically is that it allows you to lose yourself into it.  While you're inside that book, you buy into the rules of that world and accept that it exists (or could, if only in book form).  However, once it is translated onto the screen or stage it often loses that sense of realism.  

"Recovery (which includes return and renewal of health) is a re-gaining—regaining of a clear view. I do not say 'seeing things as they are' and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say 'seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them'—as things apart from ourselves. We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity—from possessiveness."

This is my favorite part about fantasy and something that never occurred to me until I read Tolkien's works.  When you enter a fantasy realm, you have nothing to go off of.  There is nothing preventing the "sun from being green" as is Tolkien's example elsewhere in this essay.  In short, you have to relearn things.  In that process of relearning, you are forced to look at things again that you otherwise wouldn't have given a second thought to.  You rediscover them within this fantasy world and look at them differently and begin to realize you have been taking them for granted.

 "...This triteness is really the penalty of “appropriation”: the things that are trite, or (in a bad sense) familiar, are the things that we have appropriated, legally or mentally. We say we know them. They have become like the things which once attracted us by their glitter, or their colour, or their shape, and we laid hands on them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them...creative fantasy, because it is mainly trying to do something else (make something new), may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds."

Tolkien goes further to say that once you begin to take things for granted, you see them as yours.  Once you begin to own them, you "cease to look at them".  Fantasy can force you to take another look at them and "open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds."

So I suppose that in short, the reason I love fantasy so much is firstly because of the release from the weight of fact.  Imagery is all the more beautiful removed from what we consider reality and it can soar to new heights of beauty and creativity.  Secondly, it is one of the purest forms of art because it is wholly imaginative and borrows little to nothing from the "real world".  And finally, and most importantly, fantasy allows us to rediscover things that have been lost to us or we have neglected.

Do you like fantasy?  If so, why?  Do you agree with Tolkien?


  1. Well said, Miss Lembas Lover. :)

    Additionally, I've always felt that my love of fantasy stems from my longing for Heaven, the life that is to come. My earthly mind has no way of understanding how wonderful it will be, so when I dream of fantasy (secondary) worlds, it appeals to the part of my heart that longs for what it has not seen. :)

    (I will say though.... if they made the Silmarillion into a movie, you'd find no arguments from me. It could never capture the world I imagined while reading the book, but I would still eat it up. I think that if they ever got permission to do it, they should make at least enough to tell the main stories of the Silmarillion, since to adapt the whole book would probably mean ten movies. A TV series, if properly done, could be cool too.)

    1. Thank you! I agree with you on that first part, too. I think it comes from an inherent human desire to imagine things other than the things of this world, like you said.

      I have several reasons for being anti-Silmarillion movie/TV show, but I won't get into that here...I have another post about that. But I understand why a lot of fans would like that and I see your point. Thanks for commenting! :)

  2. I agree with Emmarayn! Well said!

    I've always loved that it had characters that I can connect with. I would probably say the same about any other fantasy book that was well written but always have Tolkien at the top. It is pretty difficult to explain what exactly I love about his writing. His books have given me new understanding of, anything really, and I adore and appreciate books more over this past year than I have in my lifetime. I've e read the books more than once and found endless joy with each time I've read them. Maybe that is one of the things I love most about them.

    I know I could go on forever and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone. And I'm glad for that :D

    1. So true. Fantasy characters are often some of the best :)

    2. Yep *sigh*...

      Oh my goodness this is me XD

  3. "In short, you have to relearn things. In that process of relearning, you are forced to look at things again that you otherwise wouldn't have given a second thought to." <<<excellent summary! This post made me think about this video that talks about a lot of the ideas you've mentioned here. It really helped me understand why Tolkien's work is so engaging, and gave me a greater respect for the sense of history Tolkien is instilling in his audience. (It's an hour long, sorry)

    1. Thanks! I'm heading over to watch the video right now :)