Hey, all! Guess what? It’s February! And do you know what’s exciting about February? It’s Fantasy Month! Woot! Really, what could be better than an entire month dedicated for the awesomeness that is fantasy?
Many might not appreciate the pure amazingness of the genre, believing it to be silly, nerdy, foolish (gasp!), and/or mere escapism ─ and while in very tiny, minuscule ways it may, on occasion, involve these things, in truth fantasy in an incredible medium for addressing the problems we face in the very real world. And it does so in a way that lets us get outside of ourselves for a time and go on an adventure, to see and do things otherwise impossible, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and our lives and our problems. To gain perspective. After all, if our heroes can stand against a wrathful dragon, willing to risk their very lives to save the village from being destroyed and its people from becoming destitute, can we not overcome the situation facing us, which is decidedly not a giant fire-breathing dragon intent on tearing you limb from limb? Or, if so-and-so can muster the courage to stand up for what is right and true against the corrupt monarchy and political debauchery in their city, with consequences like exile or death for them and everyone they’ve ever spoken to, can’t we stand up and fight for what we believe and know to be right and true, as well?
Somehow, seeing someone else stand and strive and suffer and succeed gives us the courage to think that maybe we can, too. That is the power of stories, and that is the power of fantasy.
Now, all that weighty stuff said, let’s dive in to a list of some of my own personal favorites! (In alphabetical order, because some of us are weird that way . . .)
How to Train Your Dragon series ─ Written by Cressida Cowell, this was supposed to be a fun romp of a children’s story, and in the beginning that’s what it seemed to be. But we were warned from the onset that this was a story about growing up, and eventually, eventually it happened. This series, following the misadventures of scrawny, fishbone of a Viking Hiccup, gets real deep, posing questions of loyalty, friendship, duty, and justice. Of having the courage to do the right thing even if it’s hard and scary. Of selflessly helping people even when they’ve spit on you and have turned their backs on you. Of keeping true to your convictions against constant trials, and standing up for those whom you believe in.
Howl’s Moving Castle ─ Written by Dianna Wynne Jones, I think I’ve added this book to almost every book related list I’ve had on this blog. I love it that much. It’s sweet, it’s sour, and chock full of humor. Sophie is lost in the delusion that, because she’s the eldest, she has no hope for a happy or exciting future. It takes a witch’s curse, a disreputable wizard, and a fire demon ─ and all the crazy mess one might imagine that comes along with them! ─ to realize that life doesn’t always follow the rules we’ve given it, that adventure sometimes finds you, and that love and happiness can come from the strangest of places. This is probably my most favorite love story so far.
Rowan of Rin series ─ Written by Emily Rodda, this is a story about how small things can become great, embodying the idea that just because you’re not the greatest thing since sliced bread doesn’t mean you can’t do great things if you put yourself to them. Destiny, as it happens, doesn’t always favor the strong, but often enough takes the weak and makes them strong. Such is the case of Rowan, who is frail and frightful. Him, above all others and in spite of all others, was chosen by the village wise woman to save the people of Rin from its plight. No one believed he would survive, let alone succeed ─ not even himself ─ but his desperation, his will to save those whom he loved gave him the strength to press forward when no one else could go on. His own talents, his own personality, which everyone scorned as worthless, was the catalyst to their salvation. It’s a story teaching that you don’t have to be just like everyone else around you in order to be valuable, but that there is worth in who you are, no matter how different you may be.
The Door Within Trilogy ─ Written by Wayne Thomas Batson, this is one of the oldest (relatively speaking) and most loved stories in my collection, and was a major player in my inspiration for writing at that time in my life when I was just getting into the swing of it. I loved it so much that I read the first volume in one sitting, staying up way too late, and I’ve never regretted it. This story is a picture of our calling as children of God to go forth and serve Him, to seek the lost that they may be saved from the enemy. It was the first analogy I’ve read, I believe, and the power of it struck me. We might believe ourselves powerless and insignificant, but we are not. We have been given power and we have been given a higher purpose. There is a battle to be fought against the darkness and there is a faith to overcome every obstacle. There is a hope for a brighter future in a broken world. Not only all of this, but I have been able to read this trilogy multiple times over the years and it still hasn’t gotten old; like wine or cheese, which gets better with age, this story has grown even more endearing each time I read it, and that, I believe, is a sign of a good tale told.
The Enduring Flame Trilogy ─ Written by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, this trilogy was my first real delve into high fantasy, and as many of you might have already guessed, it left quite the impression! High fantasy, or epic fantasy, is like jumping off the diving board into the deep end of the fantasy pool, the all-or-nothing of fiction. The scale is grand and the stakes are larger than life ─ what’s not to love? I had a special spot for Harrier from the first time I met him, and the bond of brotherhood shared between him and Tiercel is something not often seen anymore. They’re friends through hell and high water, and that kind of bond, that commitment between one soul and another, is a thing we can all learn from. Through all of Tiercel’s half-baked, harebrained mishaps Harrier did not abandon him and go home. They worked together, facing ancient magic, powerful dragons, foreign lands, heartless deserts, and world dominating demons all for the sake of each other and the world they called home, taking on responsibilities they weren’t entirely prepared for and learning along the way. By the end they were quite different people than when they began for the trials they had faced, for those things they did not back down from or give up on, and we could take a lesson from that, to follow through with a thing until its end, because while there may be bitterness, there will also be something sweet.
The Iron Ring ─ Written by Lloyd Alexander, this tale takes us far across times and cultures to the land of Indian lore, to a young king of a small kingdom where caste determines your worth and honor is everything. In order to fulfill a promise, Tamar leaves his kingdom to go on a journey ─ the end of which may very well lead to his death ─ and along the way he learns some hard truths about the world. People are worth more than their lot in life, compassion is more valuable than a sword, and one’s honor is not measured by your ability to strike back at those who offend you, but by the ability to stay your hand.
The King Raven Trilogy ─ Written by Stephen R. Lawhead, this is a fantastic retelling of Robin Hood and his merry men, except in this version they’re Welshmen under the pressure of England. It’s a story of pride, loss, humility, and restoration. Bran is the son of a Welsh lord, a skirt-chaser, and quite pleased with life until his home is attacked, his father killed, and his people fled into the forest. His life changes rather drastically after that, and he has some hard decisions to make. As the rightful leader of his displaced people he faces the despair of what he’s lost and the hardships of an uncertain future. A future in which he must either become stronger or disappear, in which he must lead his people to survive or let them dissolve and die. It’s a story of the consequences of selfishness, of rising from disaster with the help of those who stand beside you, and of becoming worthy of their trust and loyalty. Bran overcame his past to become a more honorable man, who took on the mantle given him and did not squander it, but strove to do what was best for those under his care. Sometimes─ okay, in general, life isn’t fair, but we can chose to wallow in self-pity or we can chose to be the ones to step up and make a change.
So how about you? What are some of your favorite fantasy stories, and why? Here’s a tip: it doesn’t have to be anything deep or profound! If they inspire your imagination, that’s great! Who could ask for anything more than that?