Why Fantasy Writers Write
18 December 2015
By Rob Cox
Why write Fantasy? Curious as to what started some of our authors on a lifelong passion that they've been able to channel into successful careers, the Tor blog posed them that very question. Below are their illuminating answers.
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Adrian Tchaikovsky, author of the Shadows of the Apt series, and the recently-released Guns of the Dawn. The Tiger and the Wolf is out in February:
“It comes down to ‘what if.’
As a reader, I want my imagination stretched. Fantasy at its best has enormous potential for variety. You can encompass all the strengths of any other genre – strong plot, complex characters, significant themes, and you can go further. You can speculate about the future, you can reinvent the past, or you can go sideways to somewhere that never was. Fantasy fiction offers an unmatched freedom to create.
I chafe at boundaries to my imagination. I like to be able to explore worlds that I set the parameters for – whether they’re just next door to history like Guns of the Dawn, or far, far removed from it like the insect-kinden of Shadows of the Apt. The ability to ask that crucial ‘what if’ about fundamental things in a world is the primary reason I want to write. I build whole worlds to my own order, and then live in them. The same immersive experience, a journey to an impossible time and place, is what I seek in reading and try, at least, to produce in my writing.”
Liz de Jager, author of the Blackheart Legacy series that includes Banished, Vowed and the forthcoming Judged:
"I grew up on stories about magic half-lion men fighting in tribal wars for land and survival. I grew up learning about the fierce Zulu warriors who stopped superior forces who tried to take their land from them and to me these warriors were as mythical as Apollo and Zeus was to kids who grew up with early access to Classic Mythology. I was raised on folklore about the Flying Dutchman and stories about the East India Company and about tales of when the Cape was young and Africa the Dark Continent explorers had not yet trampled. At night, before bedtime, my dad would tell me African folktales passed along to him from his mother’s mother. He also told me stories, his passion, ofcharacters he grew up with: Zorro and the legends of the American West.
As soon as I could read I fell in love with stories about Demeter and Persephone, about the gods and goddesses and ancient demons of the ancient world. Stories and storytelling wasn’t just in my blood, it’s in my bones and in the air I breathed growing up a little wild. My dad called our penchant for telling stories the campfire gene and it is something I refer to in my talks. We all have it, some of it just feels that gene more acutely than others. I would write stories for my nieces and nephews to keep them busy when the adults made food and gossiped. I think it was inevitable that I turned to writing fantasy. I love the world-building, the follow-through of creating characters and settings and engaging stories that may seem far-fetched and odd and yet oh so relevant to today’s times. I’m thankful for the gift my parents gave me and I hope I get to write fantastical stories for a very long time to come."
Genevieve Cogman, author of The Invisible Library and the newly-published The Masked City:
"I write fantasy because ever since I first read fantasy as a child, my imaginings have been primarily fantasy. There have been and still are excursions into science fiction, into superheroism, into spy thrillers and the supernatural and wuxia and kung fu movies . . . But from the days that I read fantasy and fairy tales and myths, that’s where my daydreams have been sited. If we’re going to contrast reality and fantasy, I do my living and my working in reality, and I do my imagining outside it.
I think we all start off by telling stories inside our heads for ourselves. The daydreams that we put together during moments of boredom turn into dramatic scenes which eventually get enlarged into full stories. My definition of “fantasy” is quite a wide one. It goes all the way from vaguely-real-world with just a small dose of the supernatural (Victorian London with spells, Lord Darcy, etc) to full-blown fantastic from as many different cultures as possible. Myths. Legends. “Gaslamp” fantasy, swords and sorcery, order and chaos, gods and demons.
I have always liked to daydream the impossible. And now I’m able to share it with other people as well."
Lucy Hounsom, author of Starborn and next year's sequel, Heartland:
"My love of fantasy dates back to when my sister and I were very young and dad (over many, many nights) read us The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I’ve had one foot in the realm of fantasy ever since, two when I can get away with it. For me then, writing and fantasy are intertwined, and telling stories is the closest I’ll come to throwing lightning or conversing with dragons. Fantasy is an ancient genre, an archetypal means of expression; we use it unconsciously and it’s all around us. When you walk alone in woodland and there’s a noise behind you, it’s far too easy to imagine the gates of fairyland swinging open."
John Gwynne, whose ongoing series of novels (Malice, Valour and Ruin), is wowing the fantasy world:
"Why do I write fantasy? The short answer is because it’s what I grew up reading. I love it. It feels like an old friend, one that has kept me company from roughly eight years old, when my school teacher gathered up my class and began reading from Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three. After that it was a slippery slope of heroes and monsters, of Hobbits and dragons, of magic rings and giant spiders and minotaurs and talking wolves and swords stuck in stones.
Why I love it so much, even to this day, is a question that might need a little more unwrapping.
Nostalgia certainly plays a part. That stir of magical discovery, of cozy evenings, of the light on under the blankets when I just had to know, but there’s more to my love of fantasy than just nostalgia. Escapism is definitely in the mix. Fantasy takes us to bright, vivid, often bloody worlds that are so different from the grey, dreary place we live.
But fantasy is more than that. It’s a mirror reflecting us and those things that are so important to us. Our values, hopes and fears. Love, family, friendship, loyalty, courage, betrayal. The things that make us tick, that make our hearts beat faster. It’s a place where we look at what it means to be a hero or a villain, sometimes both, and all of the facets of grey in between. Fantasy is a place where I feel my emotions stirred, sometimes shredded, a place where I laugh and cry and punch my fist in the air.
That’s why I write fantasy."