“I propose to speak about fairy stories, though I am aware that this is a rash adventure. Faerie is a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold. And overbold I may be accounted…” –J.R.R. Tolkien
When Kim, Terri and I first began discussing the idea for this blog just a few weeks ago, I thought it might be a couple months before we came to an agreement on what we wanted to do, and how we wanted to do it. But Heroines of Fantasy, as a concept and as a web site, was assembled in record time. I think this reflects not only similarities between the three of us in terms of how we view fantasy fiction, but also the great excitement we share about the genre and our deep desire to discuss the adventure of fantasy fiction with other authors and readers.
By way of introduction, this month we’ve decided to talk a little about "Why fantasy?” What is it about fantasy as a genre that inspires us as readers and authors? Why start a blog dedicated to the discussion of fantasy fiction, and especially women in fantasy fiction?
The question of “why fantasy?” has come back to me many times, especially in recent months since the release of my first novel, Eolyn. The full answer to the question would be way too long for the average blog post; and I’ve responded to it in different ways at different moments in my journey as a reader and a writer.
For colleagues who know me through my day job as a biology professor, the revelation that I am also a fantasy author seems all the more puzzling. Why would a scientist write fantasy? I think the perception that this is somehow contradictory stems from our cultural tendency to assume it is the career that defines the person, and not the person who defines her career.
But also, I think we tend to forget that fantasy and science, although very different endeavors, nonetheless respond to very similar needs. This was made clear to me once again in recent weeks. While mulling over what I would write for this first post, I came across a curious coincidence between my readings about fantasy and my readings about ecology.
In his classic essay, ‘On Faerie Stories’, J.R.R. Tolkien made the following observation:
“The magic of Faerie is not an end in itself, its virtue is in its operations: among these are the satisfaction of certain primordial human desires. One of these desires is to survey the depths of space and time. Another is…to hold communion with other living things.”
Wow. That really struck a chord with me, and it occurred to me that maybe I became a fantasy author for the same reasons that I became a scientist – the desire to explore the limits of space and time, and the desire to commune with other living things.
A generation later, in 1984, one of my heroes in the field of ecology, Edward O. Wilson (known as “Captain E.O.” to entomologists worldwide), popularized what he called the ‘biophilia hypothesis’. Wilson defines biophilia as “the connections human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life” – wording that very closely resembles one of the ‘primordial desires’ identified by Tolkien.
I find it fascinating that these two men from different periods and very different walks of life should have come to such similar conclusions about one of the foundations of human desire. Writing fantasy fiction is one of the ways that I can not only fulfill these ‘primordial desires’, but also share in their fulfillment with others, both readers and fellow authors.
Wilson, interestingly enough, also recognizes the connection between one mode of exploration and the other:
"I have argued...that we are human in good part because of the particular way we affiliate with other organisms. They are the matrix in which the human mind originated and is permanently rooted, and they offer the challenge and freedom innately sought....I offer this as a formula of reenchantment to invigorate poetry and myth: mysterious and little known organisms live within walking distance of where you sit. Splendor awaits in minute proportions."
Splendor in my world, splendor in my books.
That’s one answer I can give to the question "Why fantasy?", and it’s enough, I think, for a single blog post.
I do have a couple questions for you before I finish:
What do you like (or dislike) about fantasy fiction?
And, more importantly, what topics would you like to see discussed on a blog dedicated to fantasy fiction, and especially women in fantasy fiction?
Thanks for stopping by! We look forward to reading your thoughts and comments. While you're with us, make sure you check out our Grand Opening Raffle and register to win your free signed copy of Eolyn. The drawing will be on October 1, 2011.
--posted by Karin Rita Gastreich