The first genre any child is introduced to is fantasy, whoever and wherever they are. It could be a story about brave princes and beautiful princesses who justÂ happen to have their own names, or stories of mythological heroes and conquests – children’s bedtime stories are almost always fantasy. I loved them, I’d listen wide-eyed to stories about Princess Priya and her gorgeous white magical horse which flew her every night to Magicdom, where she would fight evil alongside her brother. Those nights were special, not just because it was my father telling me stories about “me”, but because I was discovering a whole new world. It had just been created, and it was for us to explore and invent. We could do what we wanted with it.
That’s what fantasy fiction is, in its most basic form; novels which create worlds. It’s something new, something no one has ever thought of before. It isn’tÂ just because of our parents’ voices that we listened to those bedtime stories, right? It’s because we wanted to know where we were going, what this new, unheard-of geography would give us, where and what and how andÂ why things would happen.
There is a joy that comes with creating something totally new. I’m sure that writers of realist fiction feel this joy too; but for fantasy writers, it’s special. You create more than a story. You create your own universe, with its own laws, its own people, its own ideologies, its own mythologies – it might be impossible to create the perfect world in reality, but something close to it is possible in fantasy.
Many people don’t like reading fantasy. They recognise its roots in children’s stories, and truly believe that fantasy is useless as anything more than escapism. Yes, like humour it does give the reader a way out of facing the terrible stupidities that the real world offer. For one thing, this is one of the most awesome things that fiction can do – but in any case, what these people forget is, the same problems arise and are addressed in fantasy as in realist fiction. There is love, death, war, villainy, heroism, joy and sorrow. The big difference is you have the distance you need to address these issues objectively. Equally, there are more fanatical fans of fantasy novels than of any other kind of fiction anywhere in the world. Witness Pottermania, LotR and WoT fan conventions, and the excitement induced by sparkly vampires!
Increasingly, there are publishers and authors – and let’s not forget, filmmakers (Avatar!)Â - who are interested in tapping the infinite potential of fantasy writings. Fantasy is an immensely popular genre the world over. There have been recent breakthrough successes in India as well, such as Samit Basu’sÂ GameWorld trilogy and his succeeding books, but the fact is that publishers and authors seem to be responding to the urge towards the imaginative and fantastic more than readers are. Invariably, members the Indian reading public claim that they do not enjoy reading fantasy. (Even those who do, tend to prefer the established Western names, but that’s true in all genres of fiction.)
Regardless of that, and coming back to my point. Fantasy fiction is different from any other kind of writing because of the freedom that comes with it. You make the rules, and when the reader understands those rules, that’s when magic happens. Creation can happen only when the slate is clean; only with fantasy.