Why do we love fantasy? Especially fantasy set in a Middle-Ages like world? I doubt it’s because we want to live in the Middle Ages. I am not the first to ask this question or attempt to answer it. And some answers have been pretty interesting. Christine Folch speculates that, as Max Weber prophesied, cultural Europeans like fantasy because we are disenchanted—that is we find out own lives boring. Others say that we love fantasy because Tolkien and Howard were so hugely popular. (I have heard many versions of this theory and have never found it convincing.) Still others assure us that we enjoy the feeling of powerlessness (our doom is fated and we can do naught about it) and the simplicity of the resulting apocalyptic life. Or maybe we just like a good spectacle.
There may be some truth to all of this (even the Tolkien/Howard theory) but here’s yet one more idea to throw into the mix: maybe we love fantasy because we want to rebel against our own lives and this is our chance to do so—if only vicariously? For isn’t it amazing how many of our heroes rebel against convention and/or run away from home (and usually both). Consider Luke Skywalker, Geralt of Rivia, Laia and Elias, or the world-famous Bilbo Baggins—they are hugely different in every respect but one: they all defy authority, run away from home, and say goodbye to routine.
And honestly don’t you sometimes wish you could do that too? Don’t you wish (at least now and then) that a pipe-smoking wizard could convince you to take a break from waking up every single morning when the alarm rings, donning your work uniform, working for eight hours, paying the bills, eating out a few times, rewarding yourself with a night out every now and then? Of course you are a mature and responsible adult but don’t you want to be convinced to pick up a magical sword or book of spells and head off for adventure—for a little bit? Not forever, obviously. And you would make sure your plants were watered and the mail held at the post office and you would need some assurance you’d come back but wouldn’t it be fun?
I suspect that most of us think so. Even Scientific American said something along those lines when they noted that we can become addicted to living vicariously in a myth of our own creation and that we have a region of the brain devoted to role-playing. So fantasy may be a biological need for us. (If the theory is right then maybe reading fantasy is a kind of therapy.)
Therapy or not, vicarious rebellion or not, I love fantasy. How about you?