Friday, February 13, 2009

Overthinking Fantasy

A few days ago I was reading a book of fairy tales for children, trying to find one suitable to repeat to my story-starved nieces and nephews. After skimming through several of them though, I had to set it down in disappointment; these were not fairy tales. They were realistic tales with badly disguised morals set in a glittering, fantastic landscape. Worse - there were explanations for everything. If one of the characters had defining powers, they took at least three paragraphs explaining how he had come to obtain such powers.

I like realistic fantasy. I like being able to look at a complete world and think, Yeah, this makes absolute sense. But sometimes I miss the world where the fairy godmother could show up and turn a pumpkin into a carriage without having her motives explored or the scientific elements of her wand explained.

I once read a definitive differentiation between science fiction and fantasy, which claimed that, "Science fiction is a genre that can be explained by elements of reality. Fantasy requires no explanation." I like this statement a lot. Sometimes, I think we overthink ourselves in fantasy, and miss the heart of the story because we are too concerned with details.


meg said...

i love this.

its so true.

Lenya said...

Yes, very true, especially with children's books.
You may know about him already, but Lloyd Alexander wrote wonderful fantasy books for a younger audience. They are books, not just stories, but some of your nieces and nephews might like them. You might like them, too :P I read his Prydain Chronicles years ago, and I enjoy them more and more each time I read them. The Phantom Tollbooth is another really fun fantasy-ish book for kids.

Joy said...

Thanks for the recommendation Lenya!
For that good-old adult fairy tale, I like Neil Gaiman. The most absurd things are just taken for granted in his stories. The only setback is... he tends to write adult "only" stories, because of their graphic nature. =/