It’s always fascinated me how many adults (me included) read fantasy. Most who read it don’t just read the occasional fantasy. They have shelf-loads of fantasies in their collections and hang out at bookstores for the sequel in this or that trilogy. The books are all shaped like bricks, but size doesn’t put off the avid fan. Even if they have to take a crane to bed to hold the book up while they read it, they’ll still want it. Why?
Yesterday I had a philosophical discussion with a teenager (well, as philosophical as you can get with a teenage boy) that may go part way to explaining it. On the last day of term, his sister had come home from school, proudly carrying her latest craft piece - ‘hairy man’. Hairy man consisted of an empty baked bean can, painted white with a smiley face and big ears pasted on the outside and alfalfa sprouts growing out of the top (green hair). He had looked at it and found himself feeling sad. He’d spent all weekend wondering why it should make him feel that way and had finally worked it out.
The answer? This year at school, he’s studying - as he put it – ‘all the subjects that show how the world’s really put together’- physics, chemistry, calculus. But in learning all that, he’s forgotten how to imagine like a child. He couldn’t join in his sister’s excitement at the new friend she’d made and it made him sad because he knew that once he could have. It was a loss he hadn’t noticed until that moment. To her it was real, to him it was a tin can with grass growing in it.
Is that why we read fantasy – to allow ourselves to believe once more in things that as intellectual adults we know can’t be true? I’ve often wondered how many fantasy fans are seeking something spiritual in their lives (how many fantasies have gods and religious systems?) and I guess this is the same – the need to get away from scientific and mathematical truths and find a sense of wonder, a belief in magic again.
I’m all for a sense of wonder. Life’s pretty boring without it.
What about you? Why do you think fantasy is so popular amongst adults?