The fantasy genre teaches indispensable lessons

Mary Harrison, Campus Carrier sports editor

I consider my love of fantasy to be a personality trait, fostered by years of playing epic “make-believe” games with my mom and being introduced to “The Chronicles of Narnia” by my dad as a preschooler. There’s something special about being able to suspend reality for a moment, to change the world by fighting the White Witch or the armies of Mordor, and to still be back in time for dinner. However, I believe this life-long love of mine conveys more than just personal preference. Fantasy stories, be they told in literature or via a streaming service, teach important lessons about how to live a meaningful life.

First, fantasy stories clearly place us in an ultimate battle between good and evil. The Star Wars universe, enjoyed cross-culturally, is a prime example of this distinction in worldbuilding. Other than making one character and his side our primary focus, the directors do not explicitly tell us who to root for. For all we know, they could be anti-heroes. Yet, I felt genuine joy as the Rebellion blew up the Death Star, defeating the Emperor’s plan for total universe domination. The directors appealed to a knowledge of right and wrong that they knew already exists inside me: part of me that already knew light outshines darkness. 

So it is with other fantasy worlds. The line between good and evil, while unstated, is clear-cut. No, the heroes in these battles do not ALWAYS act heroically – but they do pledge their allegiance, their efforts, to the right – the just – cause.

Can we deny that both good and evil exist in the real world, as well? Though we want to believe, in sheltered, 21st-century America, that each person can “follow their own truth,” we know that, ultimately, some beliefs lead to life-giving, self-sacrificial actions, while others create danger and chaos. Fantasy stories reveal that this deep knowledge of good and evil lies within us. It exposes the human desire to know what is good and pledge one’s life to defending it.

This illustrates a second point: Fantasy teaches us that we cannot fight these battles alone. No fantasy character – as noble as they might be – ever fought these ultimate battles on their own power, and we cannot, either. Frodo needed the Fellowship; Luke, the Force and Obi-Wan Kenobi; and the Narnians, Aslan.

Whether you interpret this help as simply the strength of human unity or, from the Christian point of view, the Spirit of the One who created the world, we are all a part of a story greater than ourselves, and we all have a duty to fight for good.

In the structure and steadiness that we are blessed with in Western society, we need the reminder that life is, actually, very unpredictable and that we need to be flexible to face anything that can happen — to face it head on and allow it to take us on a grand adventure.

I don’t think there’s a better way to end an encouragement to read fantasy stories, than with an encouragement from a great fantasy story itself. When Frodo is on the point of giving up his task to destroy the ring of power at Mordor, Samwise Gamgee reminds him of why he’s doing what he’s doing.

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo,” Sam says. “The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. … But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.”

Like a 4-year-old, reading “The Chronicles of Narnia” with her dad.

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