“Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth (facts or evidence), then Fantasy would languish until they were cured” (J. R. R. Tolkien).
IT IS TOO BAD THAT “FANTASY” IS SO OFTEN USED AS A DEROGATORY TERM. As a category of literature, it is looked down upon and considered unworthy of the effort of any truly gifted writer. And as an intellectual activity, it is almost laughed at, as if those who enjoy fantasy (whether of someone else’s making or their own) are somehow suffering from a case of arrested development. Yet fantasy is not only a legitimate intellectual and artistic endeavor, the ability to enjoy it is one of the most delightful of our human endowments. It’s one of the channels through which joy comes to us: joy in the high, pure, otherworldly sense. Those who’ve never had their hearts pierced by the sharp, sweet joy of the “perilous realm,” have missed one of life’s most ennobling pleasures, and one of its most refreshing experiences.
Eudora Welty made a helpful observation about fantasy when she said, “Fantasy is no good unless the seed it springs from is a truth, a truth about human beings.” Those who say they prefer stories that are “true,” need to understand that the power of fantasy comes from nothing less than its truth. For all its strangeness and wonder, the genuinely fantastic rings true — exactly true — to what we know is in our hearts, both the good and the bad. But it does not stop at the truth of what is; it beckons us to believe in the bright truths of what can be. It suggests that what we experience in the mundane world is not all that will ever be, and it’s not all there is to reality even now!
Of the many gifts that have been given to us, fantasy is one of the greatest. That it’s not always used well or wisely is obvious, but that is no more than can be said about any of our powers. Rather than relegate fantasy to the nursery, we would do better to honor it as adults and school ourselves in the wisdom of its joy. Like education, fantasy is much too good to limit to the young.
“I now enjoy the fairy tales better than I did in childhood: being now able to put more in, of course, I get more out” (C. S. Lewis).