Of fantasy fiction (and fencing)
I'm reading a lot of fantasy books at present.
I don't usually, or rather, my love of fantasy books comes and goes - in phases, like pimples. Or Mission Impossible movies. Sometimes I can't stand them. I start reading, and then the inevitable endless horse ride across the plain interrupted only by the eating of herb-laden stew drags on and on, and I give up.
Other times, like now, I get totally sucked in.
This particular phase began a couple of months ago on a plane, in the middle of the night, somewhere over Russia, when I realised I could watch every episode of Game of Thrones before landing in Paris.
Doesn't that sound exotic? But it's not nearly as exotic as the fictional world into which I was sucked: a world of dragons and White Walkers (aka zombies) and direwolves and LOTS of swords.
Once I had watched the TV series of book one, I had to immediately read all the books in the Songs of Fire and Ice series (though they aren't YA books, by the way). And then, because the last book is such a cliff-hanger, I searched around for more new worlds of sorcery and intrigue and sword-fighting into which to plunge.
(I’ve been fooling around with some ideas for a new fantasy/historical novel myself, so I need to allow all the language and symbols of the genre to seep into me again. It’s been a while since the last fantasy phase. So all this reading counts as RESEARCH, of which more another day.)
Right now, I've got my head in Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series. Have you read it? Excellent stuff. Although there are really rather scary zombies, and I’m not very brave. And last week, I read Kate Constable's lovely Chanters of Tremaris books. Both of these marvellous fantasy series are by Australian authors.
Before that, I caught up with the last couple of instalments of Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series, and my hero Margaret Mahy's rather surreal The Magician of Hoad. I also read William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, which is just about THE perfect book, although it isn’t really a fantasy, except that it is. Sort of.
Anyway, you can see I'm just a little addicted.
How does that happen?
What is it about fantasy novels that allow us to so completely escape the real?
I wonder, besides the recipes for herb-laden stews, what fantasy fiction means to you, gentle reader. Hmm? Hate it? Love it? Only if there’s romance? Only if there’s sword-fighting? Zombies or banshees or elves or demons or magic? Contemporary or medieval-inspired? Do you, perchance, dabble in writing fantasy fiction?
JRR Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and the old maester of all things fantasy, spoke once of the fantasy world, the "faery realm", as “wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords”.
He knew - in his heart and also from years of studying the ancient languages of Europe - the imaginative power of a world filled with castles and mountains, endless plains and fierce rivers, faceless riders and nameless fears. It speaks to us of the fairy tales of many cultures: of poetry and monsters, of terror and truth, of secrets and dreams, of hardship and strength.
His books gave generations of readers and writers permission to journey on a heroic quest of their own imagining, face the cavernous dark with courage, cast spells into the sky, and heal the world.
And also there is sword-fighting. Which is always a good thing.