Fantasy, as in fantasy fiction, is a language.
It is not the language of mere children’s stories or mindless fluff for entertainment. It is much more than that, for fantasy is the oldest form of storytelling. Yes, fantasy entertains, but it also edifies, exhorts, encourages, and educates. Fantasy does not mean a flight of fancy, but a daring dream of desire and delight and destiny. It is the language of change.
Fantasy is the language of those who desire a better world. It is the language of those who came before us, and spoke of the world as it is, and the world as it could be. Then, it offered us the tools to change the world into that dream, whether the tools be swords, spells, amazing animals, the assistance of kind deities, or cunning of our own minds and strength of our own bodies. It is the language of courage.
Fantasy is the language of faith. The origins of today’s stories of swords and sorcerers are found in the stories of holy men and women, of priests and priestesses in Greece and India, of shamans in North America, of bards in Ireland and Wales, of minstrels in England, of wise women in Thuringia and wise men in Norway, of village magicians in Scotland, of counselors in China, and of midwives in Italy. Fantasy derives from the stories of a Persian wife desperate to keep her head for one more night, of a Greek moralist encapsulating life lessons through anthropomorphic animals, and of two brothers collecting rural folklore in Germany. It was the language of faith in ourselves, and that perhaps the deities would help us and that we had enough magic to make the impossible happen.
Fantasy is the language of dreams. It is the words heard, and the images seen, in that space between slumber and wakefulness, when everything is possible. It is that moment when we flew on a dragon, sang before a packed Madison Square Avenue, and captained a spaceship to Mars. It is that daydream we had when we were eight, the one we never should have allowed to die the slow death of practicality. It is also the language of nightmare. It is that moment when we fell off the Empire State Building, found ourselves trapped in a tree full of spiders, or walked naked into algebra class. Without it, we would never understand those dreams that left us in cold sweat. Fantasy is the language that allows us to remember our dreams and put our fears to flight.
Fantasy is the language of hope. It is that of hope that the world can be changed for the better. It is the spell cast to defeat a villain. It is the speech given by a war-weary king to an outnumbered army that rallies them to victory. It is the harangue of an ill-treated woman to her countrymen that inspires them to follow her in revolt against the Romans. It is the whisper of lovers in the night in the belief that they will always have tomorrow. It is the plans of a band of outlaws gathered together to fight tyranny and restore liberty. It is the shout of bravado of the warrior in the face of trolls and dragons. It is the language that tomorrow will be a better day, and we have the power to make it that way.
Fantasy is the language of the past. It is the words spoken by Neolithic elders to children around fires at night, those of instruction in virtue of thought and nobility of action. It is the words of just plain good stories to enthrall them. As we grew older, these words took on the forms of tavern songs, bardic missives, and mead hall yarns. Later, they took names to themselves, names such as Beowulf, Siegfried, Arthur, Finn McCool, and Robin Hood. In other lands, through other halls and temples, they took on the names of Heracles, Gilgamesh, and Aladdin. It is the language of our cultural and inherited memories, whatever that culture and inheritance may be.
Fantasy is the language of heroes and heroines. It is the language of a time when men and women were tough, strong, and resilient. It is the words of stories of men and women who stood beside each other to face danger. It is the sound of the clash of sword, axe, spear, shield, and flesh against the forces of darkness. It hails from a time when Hera, Hestia, and Demeter fought alongside Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon to overthrow the tyranny of the Titans. Its words were formed in the age of Arthur and Morgan, Siegmund and Sieglinde, Ceridwen and Cernunnos. It is the language of sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, kings and queens, tavern owners and seamstresses. It is the common language of people who are people and do not see themselves in prescribed roles or preordained occupations. It is the language of people who seize their own destinies.
Fantasy is the language of a world that was not so cowardly as to disbelieve that evil had a bodily form. Nor did they believe that good was beyond their grasp. It is the language of people who did the right thing because it was the right thing to do, and perhaps they made a tidy profit from their exploits as well. It formed the songs of virtue and morality. Yes, those songs may have been sung in taverns while drinking and in brothels while wenching, but personal vice is not the stuff of evil. Evil is found in those who wish to manipulate and control the lives of others for their own personal gain. Evil is found in those who use the forces of guilt and fear to enslave people. Fantasy is the language that allows us to interpret the words of evil men and understand the fate that will befall us if we do not act. It allows us to know what to do, and how to do it. It is the words in the hearts of men and women who believe that good will triumph over evil, and know how to deal with the monsters in their midst.
Fantasy is a language that our world desperately needs. In our time of dehumanizing technology, threats from shadows of night, and the wickedness of the artificial constructs of politics, economics, and religion, we need to believe that we can change our world. We need to believe in dreams again. We need to believe in hope again. We need to believe in the lessons of the past again. We need to believe in heroes and heroines again. Without those dreams, hope, lessons, and heroes, without that language, we are but drones to the forces that see us as existing only to give them our money and our votes.
Come! Let us ride a dragon together and believe once again in a better world. Then, we can transform what is into what should be.