Hope – the candle within otherwise dark tales
“At the heart’s core of fantasy literature lies the infinite possibility of dreams. Whether it presents alternate worlds in outer or inner space, alternate forms of life beyond humanity, alternate realities beyond our own, this genre speaks not to the limited self but to the limitless spirit. The well from which it draws its inspiration – be it established myth or the capacity for myth-making – is that which Joseph Campbell calls ‘the lost forgotten living waters of the inexhaustible source.’”
– O. R. Melling
Bad things happen to good people every day. We cannot deny this. Good things happen, too, but when they happen too often in fiction, the author is likely to be criticized for his or her story’s Hollywood ending.
One of the reasons I read and write fantasy literature is, as Melling says, the hint that no matter how dark the tale, dreams contain infinite possibilities.
I don’t think this means fantasy is escapist fiction or that it helps people deny reality. I’d rather say that it helps readers nurture the innate glimmer of hope that burns (or, perhaps, hides) within every human heart.
When we read about real-life heroes in the news, their heroism not only says something about their values but about the fact that they defied an apparently hopeless reality and changed it. News stories about animals being saved from icy ponds and raging rivers, about platoons that make it back to headquarters from a hellish battle, and first responders who rescue people from burning buildings tend to catch our attention and turn into the things we share with friends on Facebook or around the dinner table.
Life is, I think, fueled by hope, and so it is that stories in the newspaper and the TV evening news about hope fulfilled resonate with us. This is the key to fantasy literature that people read and re-read and talk about.
Perhaps we think, “If the real person in the news item or the protagonist in the story can conquer an obstacle, so can I.”
As authors, our primary role is telling a good story, not making people feel good about themselves and their future. But for those of us who agree with Melling that “as long as the spirit is intact, nothing is broken irreparably,” writing fantasy is a natural outgrowth of the way we see the world.
When he “get the story right,” our readers feel that way, too, by the time they get to the end of the book.