Actually, a more appropriate title for this post would be "The Importance of Speculative Fiction," but that just does not sound as good. :P
Fantasy is my favorite genre, to read, write, and watch. I've been watching fantasy since I was, I don't know, probably three since the Disney princesses are mostly fantasy. My first introduction to book fantasy was probably when I was seven because my mom read "The Chronicles of Narnia" series out loud to me.
But I think I can say when I finally decided I loved fantasy was when I was nine years old and read "The Hobbit." I just remember thinking "Yes! This is great! This is what all books should be!" And then I read "Lord of the Rings" the next year and I was sold. Fantasy was the best genre ever. (I vowed when I was ten to read the Lord of The Rings at least once every year for the rest of my life. I just finished reading The Two Towers for the eighth time. :P)
I bet you want to know what my point is. Okay, I'll speed things up. There are many people in this world that believe that fantasy, or more importantly, speculative fiction, is a waste of time. They think it does not teach you anything about a historical time period, or about our modern society. They think it is a cowardly way of leaving this world and into a fairy land.
I can respect their opinions...if they have actually read or watched fantasy for themselves. One of my biggest peeves is when somebody judges something they have not experienced. It is the reason I don't post reviews or opinions about Twilight. I have never read nor watched Twilight. I'm allowed too, I just have not. I have my reasons for not reading or watching Twilight, but they are my reasons. Who am I to impose my reasons for not reading them on somebody else?
Even Tolkien battled with this. Several critics were saying that fantasy was only for children, and even then it should be limited. They said that it was not instructive for adults to read a fantasy. Tolkien's reply was that "people often don't see the difference between the desertion of a soldier and the escape of a prisoner." (paraphrased)
And that is one of the many reasons I love fantasy. It's an escape. True, everybody should be grounded in reality, but good fantasies help us cope with that reality. My family is going through a very sad time right now. I'm reading The Hobbit right now. Middle-Earth is one of my favorite places to be, and The Hobbit is an innocent, humorous read, but still assures me that good will always triumph over evil.
Which reminds me of yet another reason I love fantasy. Good fantasy will re-inspire awe and wonder at the amazing world God has made for us, for me. I remember when I was five I would stand back and stare at a tree in childlike shock, wondering how anything could ever get that big. What is the tree made of? How did it get there? Why is it there? Being five, you can't exactly get answers to these questions...and I'd probably have been bored if someone had told me the molecular structure of a tree. As I got older, I quit even bothering to ask these questions. Trees were just a part of everyday life, nothing special.
But then I read Lord of the Rings with the Ents, and I look at trees and just wonder how. And why. Why would God make something so magnificent for me? Does He really love me that much? And the answer to those questions are yes. He really does.
Ted Dekker's "The Circle" series caused me to look at the Bible differently. So many people, myself included, get so used to the Bible as a household object. I'm sure I could easily find twenty in my house, and that is a wonderful thing, but it is easy to become numb to what the Bible truly is. God wrote the Bible. God. He wrote it. God's words are powerful, with words he created the world, and we have His words. In a book. Is that not amazing?
Bill Myers' "Eli" has made me look at Jesus' life and death in a totally different light. "Pilgrims' Progress" teaches the journey of a Christian. Wayne Thomas Batson's "Sword in the Stars" shows just how wonderful the birth of our Savior truly was. I could do this all day.
Even speculative fiction that is not Christian can inspire. "Star Wars" says that good will beat evil, the battle won't be easy, but it will be worth it. "Pirates of the Caribbean" (it is a type of fantasy/sci-fi because it is history with fantastical elements in it) shows that everyone, even someone as bad as Captain Jack Sparrow, can make the right choice. "The Hunger Games" says that no society is ever lost. I could do this all day too.
A recurring theme that appears in almost all speculative fiction is good v.s. evil. G.K Chesterton once said, "Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." I love to be reassured that good will always win. No matter how bad the situation is right now, Jesus has already won. I am a Christian, so what should I fear? Jesus has already beat evil, and someday, he'll defeat it again, once and for all. But it is easy to lose sight of this amazing truth, good fantasies remind me of it.
Now, I do not deny that there are bad fantasies that can prove harmful. But isn't that true of all genres? It takes wisdom to discern what is good and what is bad, and that wisdom can only come from God.
Everybody needs to escape from time to time. There are bad escapes, and there are good escapes. Reading a good book, and for me, a good fantasy, is a good escape. And everybody needs to dream. Who would not want to defeat a dragon and save the world once in a while? And God gave everyone an imagination. Writing and reading a good book, a good fantasy, helps stimulate that imagination. God gave me an imagination, and I intend to use it.