I love to read. At a very young age, I was given a box of Hardy Boys novels. Curious, I read the first one and was instantly hooked. Although enjoyable, I know recognize that they were simple stories that followed a generic formula. Frank and Joe Hardy were presented with a problem, they looked for clues, maybe someone was punched and the police arrested the bad guys. Now that I’m older, I am amazed that somehow the Hardy Boys were always dealing with criminals who were averse to murdering interfering juvenile wannabe detectives. It would have made for quite the surprise twist ending if Frank and Joe were shot in the knees and buried in a quarry for trying to investigate a crooked building contractor.
However, since I am a burly man’s man now, I have refined my reading tastes. Mostly, I enjoy fantasy stories with the odd horror novel thrown in for flavour. What attracts me to fantasy is that there is no limit to what can happen. It’s fantasy! Anything can happen. Want a big terrifying monster to frighten the villagers? Done. Need a special sword to defeat said monster? Here you go. Fantasy takes you somewhere foreign, unfamiliar and magical. It places you center stage with marvelous set of circumstances and you are completely at the mercy of the writer’s imagination.
A wise and discerning reader might see that parallels exist between our world and the worlds of fantasy writers. The lithe, nature-loving elves with their arrogant attitudes are nothing more than a whimsical caricature of vegans. Wizards who conjure awe-inspiring spells are the scientists of our world, developing new and exiting technology. Also, if you squint just right, you can see that mighty dragons could be the real-world equivalent of a stereotypical wealthy, old, Caucasian man who lives far beyond the reach of normal humankind, hoarding vast sums of gold and assorted wealth.
The trials and tribulations facing the hero are easier to solve in fantasy worlds too (I’m ignoring Game of Thrones, that shit will never end). No matter what threatens the good and the just, no matter how bad it seems, there is always a hero, or a ring, or a sword that can resolve it. In the real world, there is never enough of any one thing to fix all of the problems. Here, you can work your whole life on something and achieve nothing. With a quick glance at the news, you can usually find a story about how the bad guy won simply because he has all the money or all the power. Fantasy gives us a chance to balance the scales of justice.
This idea is what makes the smallest of us feel large. You might be the meekest person on Earth but I could introduce to you a plethora of fantasy stories where the underprivileged and unassuming hero slays whatever horrific beast plagues the world. This fantasy is important because some of us are never going to play the hero and lead the way into danger, fighting the good fight. Hell, if I make inadvertent eye contact with the guy at the gym with big arms my penis recoils in terror into my abdomen. It is in living vicariously through these characters that I get to experience what it is to be the hero.
Like anyone else, I sometimes get worn out with the mundane nature of reality. I know that I’m not the only one, otherwise why would fantasy be such a prolific part of our existence? Fantasy gives us wings, muscles or laser eyes. It presents us with a tool to push back the benign and the boring. This brief escape provides the reader a momentary reprieve from taxes, debt, crushing responsibility and Mormons. Most importantly, it makes us dream about he possibility of the impossible. Case in point, like any fully matured adult male, I wouldn’t complain if I got to see a badass centaur prancing around a field, just once.
If you are a fantasy virgin and don’t know where to start, I recommend anything by R.A. Salvatore, Robert Jordan, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker and J.R. Tolkien as a place to start