I can feel it coming on. I’ve noticed it more the last few years, but no doubt it’s been part of my makeup for some time. Call it the Fantasy Itch.
Yep, for some reason as the “holiday season”—usually defined here in the US as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day—approaches, I begin to have an urge to snuggle in with one of the great fantasies. In recent years I’ve used the occasion to reread the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, much of the Narnia series, and a couple of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain books. One year I even reread the one Harry Potter book I own—then visited the library to get the rest of the series to satisfy the fantasy itch.
The odd thing is, I read fantasy all the time—part of the job now, so to speak. Some years ago I read Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes, a general market young adult story, and the beginning of a series touted as “ideal for fans of George R. R. Martin and Kristin Cashore.” Then there was Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, another general market YA. Before that was Shannon Hale’s sequel to Princess Academy, Palace of Stone.
Of course I’ve also read all the books the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour features, and some I judged for contests. Others, friends have sent me. With all this speculative fiction coming out of my ears, why would I want to settle down with a fantasy as a special holiday season activity? It’s a mystery to me.
Somehow, with shorter days and cooler weather (I realize we here in SoCal aren’t allowed by our Eastern friends to say “cold weather” 😆 ), reading becomes a greater pleasure. But more than that, getting lost in a different world, one so rich it feels real, is pure delight.
Which probably explains why I gravitate to certain books—those that have a level of worldbuilding a grade above most other fantasies.
Some of those general market fantasies I mentioned above, not urban fantasy or dystopians, seem to me to be a weak imitation of the medieval world, with different countries, and of course some magic or supernatural power. In other words, I don’t feel transported to somewhere else.
Narnia speaks for itself. It’s a world full of surprises—with talking animals which one day disappear from the world, until they’re brought back; with time that moves at a different rate; with a Lion king and a frozen land always waiting for Christmas. There’s nothing like Narnia outside Narnia.
Tolkien’s stories, though supposedly happening on “middle earth,” also feel Other. Not unfamiliar or strange, mind you. There are familiar things like inns and ponies and roads and a comfortable fire and birthday parties. But peopling this familiar place are hobbits and trolls and dwarfs and orcs and wizards and dragons and elves. What’s more, there are frightening forests and abandoned dwarf mines that once held an entire city and mountains that turn malevolent and secret stairways and deadly marshes. In other words, along with the familiar are places that enchant and intrigue and even frighten.
Harry Potter is similar. Nothing could be more familiar to most of us than a school, though fewer of us have experienced a boarding school, unless you lived in a dorm during college. But mixed in with what seems so normal—homework and tests and boring lectures and athletic contests—is the special world of wizardry with its hierarchy and governance, games and tradition, wands and flying broomsticks. And history. A dark history in which a wizard, utilizing the dark arts, ruled.
Ah, yes, I’m definitely ready to settle down with a good fantasy. It’s that time of year! Last year I read Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, first in the Mistborn Trilogy (which, I learned, is actually a five book series). I’m thinking this year I should finish out the rest, starting with The Well of Ascension.
What about you? What speculative books are you looking forward to reading? Do you have a time of year in which you favor a particular genre? Which one?
This article is a revised version of one that first appeared at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction in November 2012.