Lord of the Rings. The Chronicles of Narnia. Game of Thrones. Harry Potter. The Wheel of Time. The Inheritance Cycle. The Kingkiller Chronicles
Need I go on? I can, quite easily. How about the Dragonlance novels? The Sword of Shannara series. Forgotten Realms. Let’s get deeper. How about The Book of the New Sun novels? The Dark is Rising series. The Conan novels. The Eric of Melnibone series. I haven’t even scratched the surface, because the list goes on and on.
Can you remember the first time you cracked open a fantasy novel? Memory is a tricky thing, so I can’t claim that I rightly remember the exact moment or even the exact title for that matter. But I do remember the first novel to have a definite impact on my young reading mind.
The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander.
For the uninformed, that would be the first book in a five-part series called the Prydain Chronicles, featuring the adventures of Taran, an Assistant Pig-Keeper and his steadfast companions as they inadvertently become heroes in a struggle between good and evil. Mesmerized by the captivating writing of Mr. Alexander, I devoured the series and reread it numerous times even as I pursued many other fantasy series.
On the surface, fantasy might appear a bit foolish. Tales of dragons, wizards, warrior men and women, mages and wizards combating dark lords and forces of evil might be considered the stuff of childhood, a reading phase, a fanciful hobby that eventually runs its course. And of course some fantasy does become a part of childhood, looked back upon with fondness yet never having the same impact upon the adult mind.
But the beauty of fantasy is that it offers something to the reader no matter how they age or their minds evolve. People who consider fantasy mere fluff probably haven’t read the works of a writer like Gene Wolfe or Neil Gaiman, not to mention the uber-popular George RR Martin who is currently swimming in the stacks of money he’s made since writing the ultimate ‘fantasy for adults’: Game of Thrones.
In fact, the number of writers producing works to be enjoyed by adults may be just as many as those writing YA and children’s fantasy. (Could I research that? Probably. Did I? Not really.) Sure, fantasy writing went through its phases. There was a time when books were churned out as carbon copies of one another, each trying to out-Tolkien Tolkien, populating the bookshelves with innumerable tales of halflings, orcs, elves, dwarves, wizards, and the like. And the readers responded. Like many, I strayed to other genres and writers, pausing only to pick up the latest Robert Jordan behemoth, trying to find closure to a series that I followed for over a decade. But somehow along the way my love of fantasy was rejuvenated. I discovered works by authors I hadn’t read before. Gene Wolfe. Patrick Rothfuss. Brandon Sanderson, and more. Fantasy has evolved into more nuanced tales that don’t necessarily follow the age-old archetypes. The worlds mirror our own more than before, with the lines blurred between hero and villain, if such a line exists at all. Perhaps too much, some would say, but the good thing is that there is still so much variety. So many different worlds to explore, characters to love and hate, stories to thrill, conjure laughter and tears, joy and pain, and above all lose oneself into.
My love of fantasy novels and of writing could only come to one end: writing a fantasy novel of my own. I think of it as a way to pay tribute to those that came before and whose works will never die, as well as the opportunity to tell a story that I’ve always wanted to read. The cycle completes but continues as fantasy novels will always be in rotation on my reading list, and I in my part will contribute to that ever evolving universe that continues to net new readers and fans that will discuss, debate, argue and enjoy works of fantasy for years to come.
Do you remember the first time you opened a fantasy novel? I’d love to hear your thoughts!