My birthday was last Thursday and, as this annual occurrence is timed so nicely with the new year, I am yet again presented with the opportunity to wax nostalgic. That, combined with our first Monday’s discussion about C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, has started me thinking about how fantasy shapes the seasons of our lives.
I must have ordered the Narnia books off of the Scholastic book flyer, because the whole set came to me at once, in all of their new-book-smell and glossy-cover glory. In those days, The Magician’s Nephew was still last of the set, not first, and I had not a single clue about the Christian allegory. My favorites, for no explicable reason, were The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Silver Chair. My gateway drug to fantasy, they introduced me to new worlds and places I could only imagine; I thirsted for more.
Then, in fifth grade, I made an amazing discovery in my elementary school library: Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsinger. Once I realized that my mom had all McCaffrey’s books on our bookshelf at home, I read every novel of hers I could find. Then I moved to the other books on my mom’s bookshelf, which was chock full of fantasy.
If I hadn’t been a fantasy reader by then, eighth grade would have sealed the deal. My English teacher assigned T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, and a deep and abiding love of all things Arthur nestled deep in my soul, right next to the dragons. I read other Arthur books, too, a few of which I’ve searched for ever since. I discovered David Eddings, one of my all-time favorites, and the out-of-print “Tredana Trilogy” by Joyce Ballou Gregorian, which I am afraid to re-read. From then on, knights, wizards, gods, magic, and the ideal of a better world captured and held my imagination.
Fantasy became my dirty little secret during high school and college. I was not going to be a geek, so to the general public I was a wholesome, outgoing, all-American teenager. Who knew that I played Warhammer in the back room of my friend’s house and wrote Pern fanfic for Star-Rise Weyr? And NOBODY knew that I would occasionally pick at that old story I’d started during middle school. That was for me alone.
Of course, my secrecy only lasted a few years. During a Medieval Literature class in college, I had an epiphany: I could read King Arthur myths in college? I felt like I was getting away with some elaborate scheme. I was going to study the very roots of modern fantasy, and the University was going to give me a college degree in exchange! My scheme persisted through my M.A. in Medieval Literature and cemented my fate. Not only could I now read and discuss fantasy, I could pick at the author’s historical accuracy. And eventually, when I was ready, I discovered The Lord of the Rings, and appreciated all of the complexities and subtleties of Tolkien’s amazing world.
Fantasy has formed a significant portion of my personality and worldview. I no longer care that I’m a fantasy geek—which is ironic, because becoming a geek is so much more cool and mainstream. The benefits of reading fantasy have far outweighed any drawbacks to my social life or character: I have a rich imagination, a strong vocabulary, and the ability to appreciate political, religious and social systems completely foreign from my own. I appreciate people of all different races, cultures and ethnic backgrounds, and my mind is open to new possibilities, both in fiction and in life. I believe I am a better person, more open-minded and less prone to a black-and-white worldview because of fantasy.
I did try to reread the Narnia books a couple of years ago, and found them thin in plot and character, overbearing in religious message. It made me sad to have my sense of wonder stripped away, and I wish now I hadn’t reread them, that I could always hold them in my heart with the same charm they once held for me. Still, I will never forget how they shaped me on this journey to become the reader and writer I am today.
Looking ahead, I expect I will find new fantasies that engage me as an adult. Eight years ago I tried Game of Thrones and felt it too dark; now I watch the series and see not only the darkness, but the varied shades of grey. Life changes me, changes not only what I want to read, but what I need to read. And what I read, in turn, changes me.
Now here is my question for you: how has fantasy shaped you as a reader, and as a person? And how has your taste for fantasy changed with the seasons of life?