Fantasy: The Concept Machine

Opposite of Science Fiction, Fantasy puts the imagination to the test.

There’s a Sci-Fi/Fantasy boom going on, did you notice? Surely you did. Half the movies coming out now involve space or robots or superheroes or monsters (or all of the above). It’s spectacular, isn’t it? Many movie-goers don’t realize just how many movies are based off books that came before. I highlight books into movies because Hollywood seems to amplify the differences between the two genres: Science Fiction is technical, prestigious, and respected for its creative activity while Fantasy is sensationalized and relies on the aesthetics of magic powers and scary creatures. There’s nearly zero believability in the Fantasy genre while Sci-Fi flourishes with research.  

Fantasy beach

A lot of the Fantasy movies that are on the market right now were young adult novels first. That or they’re serialized TV series that have been overly dramatized and drawn out. There’s not a thing wrong with enjoying these things, but young adult novels are shorter and have a lower word count than adult novels. This limits the available detail. And, often, genius can be found in the details.

 Science Fiction has been consistently used to predict actual technological advances. Neil Stephenson for example, author of Snow Crash, did such phenomenal work with his prospective technologies it earned him an actual job as a Futurist. Because Sci-Fi is science it must be plausible. Everything in a Sci-Fi novel must obey the laws we currently understand in science (for the most part). Fantasy, on the other hand, is entirely made up. Why are they even in the same section? Because they’re both speculative? But I’d go as far as saying all fiction is speculative.

Alien ships over city
Science Fiction

 Fantasy is too often assumed to be utter nonsense… magic wands, elves, fairies… nonsense. But the foundations for classic Fantasy are mythology and folklore. Myths were told to pass on wisdom and to work as metaphor. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are two of the more revered names in Fantasy and they chose Fantasy because they used the elements as metaphor for their spiritual beliefs.

 Science is dominant right now for good reason, but that doesn’t mean mythology is out. There was a day when people truly believed in fairies. Did they actually see fairies? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe they were just entertaining their possibility as an explanation for things they couldn’t explain. But… has anybody actually seen A.I. in space or are we just entertaining the possibility? This is very much an argument that’s more philosophical than anything because this comes down to how you view the world.

King Arthur
King Arthur

 But philosophy aside, creativity is critical for almost all areas of life and the same way Sci-Fi can be used to further physical development, Fantasy can be used to further intellectual development. Einstein believed that true genius lies within the ability of one’s imagination.

 Wizards were first a notion of Fantasy but have since become a significant cultural element. They’ve become popular enough they’ve shaped our culture. The most popular tropes (vampires, wizards, dragons) may not seem like noteworthy elements but consider how much energy has been devoted to their involvement in art, literature, movies, and role play. These are now significant symbols that have changed our culture as much as the idea of time travel.

firebird, slavic folklore
Firebird (Slavic Folklore)

 Good Fantasy Writers, the good Fantasicals, break the old tropes and make new ones. Making stories out of these things offers enough boundaries to the Fantasy author that they can’t just smash things together and call it good. Fantasy authors must ask why their creation is doing this. Why are they showing up in the story? Why are they living at this appointed time? Why are their abilities important? Why have they been able to achieve them at all? Why? Why? Why? Fantasy is all about the why.

 Fantasy, being the genre of the imagination, allows writers go wild with ideas and see just how far they can stretch their own creations. In turn, doors are opened in the readers’ minds when they are exposed to new ideas. Good fantasy is about more than make-believe, the same way good Sci-Fi is about more than simple plausibility. Sci fi is a future machine. Fantasy is a concept machine. As such, Fantasy ought to be regarded a little bit less as pure entertainment and a little bit more like something that can legitimately change the world.


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