Fantasy- what exactly are we talking about?

It has occurred to me that we haven’t gone all meta on fantasy at this blog yet, which is odd, seeings as this entire blog is premised on the role of fantasy, as a branch of speculative fiction, in human society.

I did a quick google of ‘what is fantasy?’ and this is what I came up with:

From wikipedia: Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plottheme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic is common. Fantasy is generally distinguished from the genres of science fiction and horror by the expectation that it steers clear of scientific and macabre themes, respectively, though there is a great deal of overlap between the three, all of which are subgenres of speculative fiction.

From In books, TV, and movies, fantasy refers to fiction that doesn’t assume everything has to be explained by science as we know it. Science fiction accepts the basic structure of our natural universe; but with fantasy nature itself can be different, physical laws can be different (or nonexistent!), and the ordering of the universe is entirely up for grabs. Because fantasy allows for changes to nature itself, fantasy literature is often closer to the ground than some kinds of science fiction.

And if we go to (făn’tə-sē, -zē), -sies.

  1. The creative imagination; unrestrained fancy. See synonyms at imagination.
  2. Something, such as an invention, that is a creation of the fancy.
  3. A capricious or fantastic idea; a conceit.
    1. Fiction characterized by highly fanciful or supernatural elements.
    2. An example of such fiction.
  4. An imagined event or sequence of mental images, such as a daydream, usually fulfilling a wish or psychological need.
  5. An unrealistic or improbable supposition.

Read more:

This seems to me, to be enough to start with. Is fantasy simply unbridled imagination? Is it anything set in a make believe world? Is it anything that exists in a world that is not ours, no matter how similar? (so as to potentially include cyberpunk, steam punk and sci fi?) Where does one draw the line? More to the point, do we need to?

I don’t see much point in the distinctions between fantasy, sci fi and other forms of speculative fiction, because for me they all achieve the same goal (not to mention, too often, genres criss cross over). For me, speculative fiction allows one to ponder and communicate with, and about, the human condition in a meaningful way, precisely because of its reliance on symbol, myth, fable, allegory and ‘the unreal.’ In being unbound from the restrictions of certain modern day social, cultural and place bound realities, fantasy and science fiction can reveal deeper “truths” about what it means to be human. In a strange paradox, it is this creativity of the ‘untamed’ imagination that allows us the freedom to discuss, however obliquely, real life issues.


About InkAshlings

Maureen, Australian, young aspiring writer.
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3 Responses to Fantasy- what exactly are we talking about?

  1. jaymountney says:

    I absolutely love your final paragraph. You sum up my thoughts about all speculative fiction very succinctly. In particular, speculative fiction allows writers and their readers to contemplate issues that may be in some sense taboo or ‘dangerous’ when addressed through mainstream fiction. This applies, I think, to ‘fairy tales’ that let us look at family and sexual relationshiips etc. as much as to sci-fi that takes us to differing political or penal systems in other galaxies. It is possible to get readers to explore their feelings about race, sex, class, etc. through the non-threatening guise of fantasy presentations. I personally prefer, both as writer and reader, the fantasy arm of speculative fiction. I am not keen on horror in large doses though I accept the need for small amounts in stories that are basically non-horror. I love sci-fi but know my own knowledge of science is not sufficient to allow me to write in that sub-genre without an amount of research that would prevent me ever reaching publication stage. Of course, this all makes speculative fiction sound incredibly worthy and potentially dull. There is also the glory of ‘untamed imagination’ that allows us to play with ideas and indulge in creation. That appeals to the artist in us all.

    A great post! .

    • InkAshlings says:

      Sorry for the delayed reply! I’ve been busy, busy as usual…

      Thanks for such a detailed response. The point you make about taboo subjects is so true- in removing the constraints of “here and now reality,” it’s easier to get readers to think about their own prejudices and cultural mores.

      I prefer fantasy too. Fantasy appeals most to me, I suspect, because of the ability to twist and shape using pure imagination alone. I love fairy stories, for that, and also for the (usually quite post modern) meta take on narrative, and the role of story telling in modern society. I may have quoted Pullman before, but I’m entirely with him on the quote, “stories are the most important things in the universe. Without stories, we wouldn’t be human beings at all.”

      • jaymountney says:

        I found a similar quotation recently – ‘We are story-telling animals…’ – in a science book by Stepehn Jay Gould. And yes, I love the way comment on the world can be wrapped up in imagination and presented as something quite new and intriguing. I also love the way the writers of speculatlve fiction teach us to look at the world with the kind of wonder that is sometimes called childlike but should really be part of everyone’s heritage.

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