by Jenelle Schmidt
“I don’t like anything here at all.” said Frodo, “step or stone, breath or bone. Earth, air and water all seem accursed. But so our path is laid.” “Yes, that’s so,” said Sam, “And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo, adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on, and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same; like old Mr Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?”
“I wonder,” said Frodo, “But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings
Fantasy is wonderful. It's fun, it's beautiful, it's an escape from the drab and dreariness that reality can sometimes become. It's filled with excitement and heroes and adventures... but really, besides it being fun, is there a point? Is there a good reason to read fantasy fiction? Is it applicable to everyday life?
If you've read any fantasy at all, you probably know the answer. I met a lady a while back who told me she did not enjoy fantasy fiction... that she wished she could, but she just didn't feel like it was very applicable, and therefore she felt like it was a waste of time.
Fantasy won't help you learn how to solve calculus equations. It won't teach you how to organize and declutter your home. It won't necessarily teach you the things you can and should learn in school... but there is a lot about fantasy that is useful and applicable to everyday life.
The first time I tried to write this post it was full of disclaimers about how of course I don't think you should read fantasy to the exclusion of making real friends, how you should definitely be discerning about what you read and that if what you are reading isn't God-honoring or is filled with objectionable content you should put it down and go find something else to do or read, and how of course fantasy isn't the only genre that teaches good lessons, and not all fantasy is good, and of course you can have a full, happy life without reading fantasy fiction, and of course we can be friends even if it's not your cup of tea. But that post was boring. So... knowing that, yes, I believe all of the above is true, and keeping it in mind... here's why I love fantasy fiction:
Because it teaches me about perseverance. One of the reasons I shared the JRR Tolkien quote above is because I feel that it captures the essence of why I love stories in general, and fantasy in particular. The characters in fantasy fiction often teach us how to reach down deep inside ourselves to a heroism we didn't know we possessed in the face of all odds and confronted with daunting obstacles that would make most others turn aside. They teach us that some things are worth standing up for, and some things are worth fighting for, and yes, some things are even worth dying for.
Fantasy fiction is often riddled with characters who go out of their way to help others, particularly those who cannot protect or help themselves. It teaches selflessness and sacrifice.
Friendships like the one between Aragorn and Boromir (in the BOOKS, not the movies), Samwise and Frodo, Harry and Ron and Hermione, Han and Luke, Cimorene and Kazul and Morwen and Mendanbar, Brant and Oraeyn and Kamarie and Kiernan and Yole... they teach us about loyalty. About sticking by someone no matter what. About forgiveness when we are betrayed, and understanding when a friend is struggling with something too big for them to handle on their own.
Fantasy teaches us about courage. It teaches us that sometimes we need the kind of courage that walks up and knocks on the Gates of Mordor, and sometimes we need the kind of courage that stays home and waits for our heroes to return like Odysseus's wife and son.
It teaches us to stand up to bullies and tyrants.
It teaches us about right and wrong, good versus evil, and the disasters that can occur when that line gets blurred.
Often, fantasy can hold an allegory of some kind, like in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, which holds a beautiful parallel of Aslan choosing to take Edmund - the betrayer's - place and sacrificing himself to appease the "Deep Magic" the way that Jesus sacrificed himself for all of us - betrayers - to appease God's wrath. It will not always be that obvious, but there are gemstones of truth scattered throughout most of the fantasy I have read (and I have read a lot of it), even the stories written by non-Christians. I believe that all truth is God's truth... and that He can even use stories written by non-Christians to teach... often in incredibly powerful ways.
You and I will never face a fire-breathing dragon in single combat. But we may face things that look and feel a whole lot like dragons: an unexpected diagnosis or death, a financial crisis, a falling-out with a friend or family member, a betrayal, the loss of a job, an injustice of any kind... fantasy fiction can teach you how to have grace under fire when facing your dragon... whatever it looks like.
It may seem that you have to dig a little deeper in a fantasy fiction novel to find the truth, to find the lesson, to find the application therein, but I truly believe it is well-worth it. The applications you can take away from it, like beautiful stones carefully removed from the rocky walls of a dark cave, may not be quite as tangible as the ones you find in other types of stories, for they are character-building lessons, teaching courage, integrity, honesty, loyalty, and valor. But, if you take the time to do so, these are the applications that will definitely shine the brightest if they are allowed to be found and polished.
Jenelle is a rare and elusive creature known as an "author." She enjoys wandering through the woods and opening doors in search of hidden passageways. She can sometimes be found in darkened corners of libraries or coffee shops sipping hot chocolate and carrying on animated conversations with those strange and invisible beings known as "characters."
A blog about all things fantasy from the elements we all love to how to write it. Posts are from our very own Fellowship of Fantasy authors.