Notes on Literature: The Possibilities of Fantasy

My previous post got me thinking about the need for fantasy as a genre and the possibilities that it opens up. Why do we need fantasy? What is the intention of an author in setting his-her tale in a fantastic setting? Is the choice of a magical setting deliberate or one demanded by the tale? What does the fantastic or magical world of the tale do for the tale and its concerns? One possible answer could be that fantasy offers writers a way to pose questions to which they intend to formulate answers within a world whose laws and rules are very different from our own. Sometimes, this may be the only way to even get a glimpse of the complex ramifications of seemingly simple questions. In Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, Borges imagines a Frenchman in the twentieth century attempting to recreate verbatim Cervantes’s seventeenth century Spanish epic Don Quixote without having read a word of it. In another one of his ficciones a man gets hold of a book with an infinite number of pages. To even imagine the consequences of someone producing the contents of a seventeenth century work through twentieth century experiences or the existence of something so subtly abominable as a book with an infinite number of pages, one would have to first assume possibility and existence respectively. These are fantasies spun around ideas: the possibility or existence of a few fantastic elements is taken for granted in an otherwise mundane world.

A cultural imagination devoid of the fantastic would never be able to examine its fundamental concerns, problems, and questions from perspectives that are inconsistent with its own world. For instance, how would our moral imagination, ethical constructs, and conception of free-will be affected if our actions could potentially be prophesied or foreseen? That in some sense is Sophocles’s preoccupation in two of his greatest tragedies: Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus. A less ancient and more popular instance is the Harry Potter series with almost the entirety of its plot hinged on a prophesy that is meant to be fulfilled by being partially overheard.

While there are other types fantasy fiction, the best, like the best of Greek tragedy, are spun around a bare minimum number of fantastic mutations in the fabric of our own reality or parallel realities similar to our own.

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