Why I Write Fantasy

magic and fantasy book pixabay take-532097_640Decades ago, when I was still trying to get an agent, I received a rejection letter that particularly stunned me. In that letter, the agent passed along his reader’s comments on my epic fantasy novel. One of the comments was that the book would never sell because one scene contained material that was inappropriate for children.

Mind you, this was several years after Stephen R. Donaldson’s Lord Foul’s Bane had been published. That epic fantasy featured a rape in chapter 7. Nobody had confused it with a kids’ book, and it seemed to have found an audience just fine.

Times have changed. I don’t think anyone in publishing believes fantasy novels are strictly kids’ stuff anymore – not after J.K. Rowling, and Twilight. Of course, even with massive adult readership, those successful series have been labeled “young adult” by their publishers. Then again, George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” is clearly fantasy, and definitely not aimed at kids.

Anyway, fantasy is big right now. And there are so many flavors! Everyone always thinks of epic fantasy first – you know, like Lord of the Rings or “Game of Thrones.” But Wikipedia lists thirty-four thematic subgenres for fantasy. They’re not all set in mythical realms, either – the stories in many subgenres are set in the present day. The one thing all fantasy fiction has in common, Wikipedia says, is the use of “magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting.”

Literary purists sometimes denigrate the fantasy genre. But think about it: our earliest stories, as a culture, are fantasies. Beowulf is the story of a hero who’s called upon to slay a monster. What would you call that, if not an epic fantasy? A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Fantasy, right down to the fairies. King Arthur? Fantasy.

The best fantasy literature doesn’t simply rely on magic as a deus ex machina. Instead, the author uses magic to explore the character’s thoughts and feelings, as well as his or her relationship with other characters and with the world at large. If you give a character the ability to level civilization with the flick of a finger, it doesn’t matter whether that finger is poised on a nuclear bomb detonator or shoved in the pocket of their hoodie. Either way, your character now faces a dilemma, and the way they solve it will explain a lot about who they are and what they stand for.

I came home to fantasy after trying my hand at literary fiction in graduate school. The stories I wrote back then were pretty good, but somehow, they seemed to fall flat. They were missing something. My work needed a spark. It turns out that what it needed was magic.

These days, I write primarily urban fantasy – stories usually set in a city, and often in the present day, but with magical elements. I suppose I could also call it mythic fiction, as my work uses myth or folklore as a springboard. Or I could simply call it contemporary fantasy – set in the present day, but with magic. Some of my books also fit under the paranormal romance umbrella, although the romance is usually a fringe benefit rather than the point of the story.

Literary fads may come and go, but fantasy has stood the test of time. I expect I’ll keep writing it for many years to come.

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

13 thoughts on “Why I Write Fantasy”

  1. I’m impressed with the world-building aspect of writing fantasy! It’s not something I’ve tried (yet) because it’s daunting, having to come up with a magical, but somehow believable world that the reader can “live in.”

    1. Ah, but you see, some subgenres don’t require much world-building at all. One of the advantages of writing urban fantasy is that the setting is our current world. The magical and/or paranormal stuff is a value-added thing. 😉

  2. I share your sentiment about fantasy. Fortunately, I’ve never worried too much about literary fads – as evidenced by my sales – so I never had to come ‘home’ to fantasy. Thanks for sharing.

    1. You’re welcome, Armen. My excuse is that when I turned in speculative fiction for my class assignments in grad school, the other students looked at me funny. :/

  3. I’ve always loved fantasy, probably as a result of getting hooked on Anne McCaffrey’s Dragons of Pern series at a young age. I’ve only written one myself, and it was fun creating an entirely new world. Nothing grabs me more than just a hint of magic in an everyday setting. Great post, Lynne. Keep writing!

  4. I enjoy books that make me believe in magic or in a world I never knew existed. That’s why I write contemporary romance with a paranormal twist. It’s also why my favorite novels, movies, and TV shows are fantasy, science fiction, or a mild shade of horror. I bore easily!

  5. I’m more into science fiction than fantasy, but both give the author room to explore extraordinary situations from a human [or sometimes not so human] perspective. Great post, Lynne.

    1. I agree, Meeks. It’s the extraordinary situation that brings out either the best or the worst in a character — no matter what the novel’s genre trappings happen to be.

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