From pretty much the beginning of my writing career, I’ve gotten the question of why I write fantasy. Sometimes it’s asked harmlessly, but sometimes it’s meant as a slur. Why don’t you write something serious, they mean. Why don’t you write something that will matter. And it’s not a terrible question, as these things go. After all, most people view fantasy as a passing entertainment, or something that kids enjoy. I have a lot of conversations about my work with friends and colleagues that end with something along the lines of “Oh, my kids love this stuff.” It drives me nuts.
So why do I write fantasy? I guess my basic reason is that fantasy is my native language. It’s the mechanism I deploy whenever I’m trying to get at an idea, either simple or complex. I find that it’s a more nuanced tool than anything reality can offer. Since a lot of my writing is about religion, and people tend to be sensitive when it comes to their belief systems, it’s easier for me to form a complex metaphor around an idea and then approach my point through illusion and phantasm. You can ease people into a sense of comfort, then confront them with ideas that, if presented in real world terms, would cause them to immediately throw up their shields and ignore your point. In our modern partisan era it’s almost impossible to have a nuanced conversation about religion and politics. But it can be done through fantasy. And, if done well, you might not even know you’re having that conversation.
By the way, one of the things that I don’t like about a lot of message fantasy is that it’s not subtle enough. It drags the narrative through its point like a drowning rat. It sacrifices story, and it ruins the metaphor. The only people who are actually going to enjoy those stories are people who already agree with you. And while it’s nice to give them something to read, it doesn’t really advance your message. A friend of mine once described my stories as an idea engine that had been drilled to save weight. I like that.
I meant to write something here about elves, but I didn’t. Maybe next time.