Fantasy Novels and the Real World

We have an interesting power as fantasy authors. We can invent a unique society that operates according to the rules we choose. As long as the world we write about remains consistent with its own rules and is familiar enough to be engaging to our readers, we have a lot of latitude. Unlike other genres, we don’t necessarily have to follow scientific laws or real life conventions. Obviously, certain types of fantasy, such as urban fantasy or historical fantasy, may be bound within the strictures of the real world, but even then, the fantasy author can bend those conventions to suit the story.

At the same time, however, fantasy authors are themselves people who live in the real world, and our experiences undoubtedly influence what we write. The relationships we have, the people we meet, and the milestones of our individual lives shape our writing, just as they do for authors in any other genre. Likewise, the concepts of the real world — love, faith, friendship, hope, loyalty, determination, war, peace, etc. — not only apply to fantasy stories, they are critical to help make the otherworldly setting seem realistic.

As a fantasy reader and writer, one of my primary motivations has always been escape from the real world. My goal in writing fantasy fiction is to entertain, not to make commentary on society or politics. Like Professor Tolkien, I tend to dislike allegory. I prefer fantasy universes that exist on their own merits and are not just our world with the serial numbers scratched off. (Incidentally, this comment does not apply to fantasy stories that are supposed to take place in the real world, such as historical fantasy or urban fantasy. Those are fine. Instead, I’m talking about the stories that purport to be set in an entirely different world from ours, but really aren’t.)

But even for fantasy authors like me who try not to write about the real world, I wonder how much our writing is subconsciously influenced by the events occurring around us. The unprecedented year we just collectively experienced will likely leave its mark on us all. The extent to which that affects our fantasy stories, either on a conscious or subconscious level, remains to be seen. After “sheltering at home” for so long, I know that I will forever think differently about stories involving a princess locked in a tower with only a magic mirror to let her view the world outside.

-Susan 1/8/2021

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