Defining "The Fantastic /Fantasy" Essays Examples
Type of paper: Essay
Topic: Fantasy, Society, Literature, World, Human, Desire, Reality, Understanding
When we look around us, we see what we know, what we understand. However, there may be more than what is normally understood as “real” in our everyday lives. In looking at the definition of the fantastic and fantasy, it is important to also define what is and is not possible. In doing so, the importance of imagination to individuals and society as a whole can be examined. This, in turn, will hopefully give some idea of where this can lead society and give a glimpse of what the world would be despite it.
The definition of fantasy is an important concept to consider in determining its relationship with society. Not only is fantasy an action of the human mind, but it can also be considered a striving towards desire, or simply a class of fictional literature. In defining these aspects of fantasy, a better understanding of how they relate to individuals and society as a whole can be achieved.
As a human activity, fantasy helps individuals to cope with reality, or to simply shape their understanding of the unknown. Not only can fantasy help people within society to cope with death and other aspects that they have difficulty understanding, but it can also be a reflection of the way that they perceive the world around them. This perception is fundamentally informed by the relationship between the imaginations of the individuals and their view of the world around them.
Fantasy has also been considered the striving towards desire, which, in a way, has propelled the development of society forward. It can be said that many of the important inventions that helped to make society what it is today were a product of the imaginations of people coupled with an understanding of the real world. In this way, their relationship with the fantastic helped to further the development of human civilization.
Fantasy can also be considered a literary genre, but it has a rich history that goes beyond the novelization of the ideas that are considered fantastic. This history stretches back into human history, where the unknown was often characterized by the imaginations of those who were writing the stories. The question of whether or not the natural world around us is actually all there is to reality is something that is examined within the context of these stories.
Books such as The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter have become increasingly popular in our society, but these types of books tend to be scorned by the academic community, while the larger population sees high value in not only the simple enjoyment of the stories themselves, but often also the ideologies and nuances that they express. This, however, is often disregarded by those who study literature. “Literature of the fantastic had been claimed as ‘transcending’ reality, ‘escaping’ the human condition and constructing superior alternative, ‘secondary’ worlds.” (Jackson 2)
This disassociation within the academic environment is due to the fact that non-fantasy literature tends to be focused on the analytical tendencies of the 20th century. “Realistic fiction is relentlessly focused on human behavior and psychology.” (Le Guin 87) This creates a divide between the modern literary works that focus on reality and the psychological processes of the human mind and those that individuals had created previously in celebration of their imaginations.
In this way, it seems evident that we human beings can sometimes see what is not there, or what is not considered “possible” to the rational minds, in the realm of the fantastic. This is a representation of the opposite of those analytical and rational ideas that scientific understanding is built from. The fantastic represents that which has yet to be understood or explored. In another sense, it is a presentation of the yearning and desires of people within societies.
Those representations that are considered the most successful are those that present this relationship between individuals and the unknown world. That is, the conflict between the known world and the world that either yet to be explored or is inexpressible. “Most good “fairy-stories” are about the adventures of men in the Perilous Realm or upon its shadowy marches” (Tolkien). This seems to be a reflection of the urge to explore these unknown or unknowable aspects of reality and whatever might lay beyond.
This is why being able to imagine the fantastic is so important for us as individuals and as a society. The inability to understand and the inability to express are both detrimental aspects to the stability and faith in society as a whole. The structure of civilization is built upon the expression of laws as well as the potential to understand and manipulate the natural world.
Furthermore, the expression of fantasy alleviates an inner angst that people naturally feel the need to communicate. “In expressing desire, fantasy can operate in two ways: it can tell of, manifest, or show desire, or it can expel desire, when this desire is a disturbing element which threatens cultural order and continuity.” (Jackson 5) In this way, the natural tendency to express the fantastic is not only inherent, but fundamental to the stability of society.
While the concept of expressing through the fantastic seems to be considered more important for some individuals than for others, it would seem that those who are most disassociated with fantasy could benefit from the experiences that the imagination has to offer. This includes not only children, but adults as well. “Actually, the association of children and fairy-stories is an accident of our domestic history.” (Tolkien 11) In this sense, fantasy is something that is definitely not more important for some than others.
One of the concerns that have been raised about fantasy is whether or not it gives something to us, take something away, whether it does both, or if it does nothing to fundamentally alter individuals or society. It seems, though, that fantasy is something that, at the very least, is not detrimental to human understanding or rationality. Furthermore, it seems that it has, in fact, led to its further development.
The facets of the imagination seem to be something that human beings are born with. For this reason, it is difficult to believe that it could be detrimental to either individuals or society. “Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, or obscure the perception of, scientific verity.” (Tolkien 18) In this way, it is important to consider the need of these activities and their importance within civilized society.
In considering where fantasy can lead us, it is important to understand what it has done for society. It seems that the benefits of fantasy are not only to simply escape reality, but to alter the perceptions of individuals to the point where they genuinely wish to alter reality in order to shape their desires in the real world. In this way, the benefits of fantasy are that it can alter not only the minds of individuals, but the aspirations of society as a whole as well.
Jackson, Rosemary. Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion. The Fantastic as a Mode. Methuen.
London and New York.
Le Guin, Ursula K. The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists. Unknown. 2007.
Tolkien, J.R.R. On Fairy Stories. Readings. 1947.