Perhaps more than any other genre of entertainment, the fantasy and sci-fi genres require the most dedication and the greatest scope of imagination.
Unfortunately, fantasy and sci-fi are often looked down upon. The reasons can vary, but they generally get a bad rap for being campy or having a fanbase that is simply neurotically obsessed about the genre; that factor I won’t deny. Concerning the camp, you do have to be willing to suspend a great amount of belief to accept the world of fantasy and sci-fi. After all, we are talking about genres where people summon flaming rings of mind energy and gravitic warp engines are readily accepted.
In my experience, the most overt trivialization of fantasy and sci-fi was actually during my senior seminar project in college. As my fellow graduates were presenting their 20 minute presentations, one student was presenting on a topic roughly as follows: Is Frodo the true hero of the Lord of the Rings? No, Aragorn more explicitly follows the path of a hero.
It wasn’t a very original topic in my opinion, and it was apparent that either the student was beyond nervous, or they hadn’t really practiced their presentation and decided to wing it. After he was finished, one of the professors blatantly asked, “What is the value of studying fantasy literature?”
The student froze- he didn’t have an answer. For what seemed like five minutes, he stumbled on and on, unable to come up with a decent answer to the professor’s question and, ultimately, it was never resolved.
I have no idea whether this professor was sincere in his opinion that fantasy is worthless. He had a reputation for asking “gotcha” questions, but that is neither here nor there. The true question is why would he feel it necessary to ask that question? Are fantasy and sci-fi worthless trivial pursuits that sully the name of good literature?
I’ve yet to discover what good literature is. That requires quantifying something that’s a personal feeling between a person and their own tastes as a consumer.
The answer I desperately wanted to shout from my seat is that literature began as fantasy. Fantasy, for human experience, is a seminal piece of storytelling. Whether you’re a religious person or not, there are gods you do or do not believe in. I imagine that the greatest majority of Americans and people in the world today regard Norse and Greco/Roman mythology as just that– mythology. However, for those people, these gods lived and breathed in the world.
Fantasy is important because consumers love it. It asks us not to look at the real, but to look at the unreal and fathom how such impossible things can be possible. If you are engrossed in a realistic murder mystery set in modern day New York, little suspension of disbelief is needed. These things can, and do, happen all the time. However, for fantasy and sci-fi, more willingness to suspend disbelief is required.
Fantasy and sci-fi are important because we live and breathe it. The most popular movies at the box office during this millennium are superhero movies and Peter Jackson’s take on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Fantasy and sci-fi matter because the masses love them, and more importantly, humanity has always had an affinity for these kinds of stories. Gods, monsters, demons, elves, and dwarves: they all have much more in common than what first meets the eye.