Fantasy.

Swords, dragons, fallen planets, ancient ruins. As fantasy nerds, these are some of the things that get us excited and get our minds racing with ideas.

But what’s the value? Does fantasy—in books, movies, or games—provide something of value to the world?

Apparently a lot of other people are asking the same question.

College prep reading lists, for example. According to PrepScholar.com, “…the work you select needs to have “literary merit.” What does this mean? In the context of the College Board, this means you should stick with works of literary fiction. So in general, avoid mysteries, fantasies, romance novels, and so on.” (Bold is mine.)

Brandon Sanderson, popular writer of the Mistborn Saga and Stormlight Archive, says that “They—the literary scholars—created those rules to describe a certain kind of writing, and we ain’t it! (https://faq.brandonsanderson.com/knowledge-base/why-is-fantasy-and-other-genre-fiction-looked-down-on-by-the-literary-world/)

So, if you’re a fantasy nerd like me who wants to make the world better, you’ve got some challenges ahead. Because the experts don’t seem to believe that fantasy has value.

But we know it does.

When I watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I’d never thought about the importance of hope quite like that. When Frodo and Sam split because of Gollum’s treachery, I felt that. I saw the injustice of what Gollum was doing, I could feel Sam’s pain, but I could also see and understand Frodo’s reasons for sending Sam away, which made me hate the Ring even more.

The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, even newer stories like Nadine Brandes’ Fawkes all have value because they tell the story of a human experience that speaks to our hearts and makes us think about the world and our own selves.

The difference between fantasy and the other genres that do this is that fantasy stories are willing to 1.) have fun, and 2.) explore what universal experience could look like in another world.

1). HAVING FUN

Why do we love other worlds? Because they’re fun! It’s fun to imagine what it’d be like to fly or shoot fire or live in a world where the ground is made of insects.

Daydreaming is something every kid does. I know I for one did a bunch of it as a kid. I recall vividly one Sunday morning, I was five years old or so, imagining that I had a backpack with Iron Man’s armor in it. I could almost see myself flying around the Sunday School room, looking super cool and incredibly handsome.

Did that daydream have any purpose? Probably not, but it was fun.

And guess what? Fun is a good thing.

Now since you guys are nerds, you probably already believe this. But for the doubters out there, Sage Journals says “The benefits of playfulness have been suggested to improve cognitive, social, and psychological functioning for healthy aging.”

So that’s the first thing that fantasy is good at—it’s able to let us imagine and daydream freely, and enjoy getting lost in another world.

2). EXPLORING UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCE IN MADE-UP SETTINGS

This is possibly my favorite part of fantasy, and the reason I personally believe it can be one of the most powerful genres.

You see, in fantasy, you can make the world what you want it. So if you want to tell the world that, say, grounding isn’t an effective punishment, then you can create a whole society where grounding children is the only punishment parents can legally enforce. Then you can show the children growing up rebellious and unhappy, and how terrible the ensuing society is.

You can build any world around any theme.

YOU CAN BUILD A WORLD
AROUNG ANY THEME

You take the core theme or experience you want to talk about, and you push it to the extreme, so that the things we ignored or didn’t notice before suddenly stand out as obvious.

Now, not every world will be constructed specifically to address a certain theme, but if you really have something on your heart to say, with fantasy, you can reorganize and construct the world any way you want in order to support that.

I’ll give a personal example because I’m feeling long-winded.

I wanted to tell a story about division in the Church. So I constructed a space fantasy world where the whole society and government were based on division and the struggle to achieve balance in that division. Ultimately this society was chaotic, unstable, and prone to violence. Which is what I believe what would happen if every Christian denomination believed in jihad.

So. Let’s wrap this thing up.

You’re a fantasy nerd who wants to make the world better. The literary experts don’t think your crazy desert worlds or sword-wielding wizards will provide value to the world. But you know that they can, because you my friend have good ideas.

You have things in your heart that if the world implemented, it would be a better place.

And when you tell those things through your worlds and stories, you allow people to take a trip into your imagination, and think about the world in a way they hadn’t considered before.

This is something that takes practice. Not all your stories will be equally valuable to the world. And that’s okay. But as you get better, value and theme and empathy will begin to flow freely out of your work, and people can be changed by its river.

I’m not to that level. But maybe we can get there together.

Next week, I’ll be talking about my experience filming with kids (it ain’t easy, my friend!) and how, as we strive for value in our work, we need to make sure that people come first.

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