What Fantasy Can Teach Us About Ourselves

A dragon flies over a mountain range at sunset
08/18/2020

Fantasy Makes Us Better People and Prepares Us for Life

Fantasy as a way to inspires self-reflection

It’s never been easier to be a fan of fantasy. Every year, there’s another blockbuster or TV show featuring swords, sorcery and iconic period costumes. What used to be the domain of nerdy kids has become watercooler talk and no one would bat an eye these days at a trailer featuring fire-breathing dragons or knights riding to war.

That said, fantasy still faces a kind of stigma, especially from parents and educators who feel compelled to talk kids into consuming more serious literature. The tropes and trappings of fantasy look like a lot video games or comic books on the surface. That has unfairly put a label on the genre for not being mature enough. That’s a big shame. For all the magic and monsters, a good fantasy title is as serious as Shakespeare (who also wrote about fairies and sorcerers, don’t forget).

Fantasy isn’t really about wizards and gods; it’s about the human experience. Like the most celebrated literary classics, the best fantasy stories explore what it means to live in the world.

Great Stories Prepare Us for Big Changes

It’s often the stories we consume that prepare us for rites of passage into the next stage of life. Becoming a teenager, graduating high school or getting married are all things we see our favourite protagonists go through long before we do them ourselves. Stories help us navigate those events when they happen because we’ve seen characters near and dear to our hearts go through it, and we have a chance to learn from all the messy mistakes they make along the way.

Teenagers experience the world a little more intensely than adults. Everything feels new and important. In a way, the world they live in is already charged with the epic significance that fantasy worlds capture. When a writer wants to capture that feeling of enchantment, or the high-stakes drama of a small argument with your parents, they can’t just replicate the real world. They need to reach into their tool box to pull out the extremes.

Take Gods of Jade and Shadow, an NPR Best Book of the Year by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. It starts with a Cinderella-esque situation, in which Casiopea is stuck cleaning her wealthy grandfather’s mansion, while the Jazz Age is in full swing in 1920s Mexico. Her grandfather treats her as a servant and she’s tormented by her cousin while she dreams of escaping and starting a new life. That desperate need to escape into a world that’s exciting and full of opportunities is something plenty of teens growing up in small towns and suburbs can relate to.

Gods of Jade and Shadow

Author:
Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Narrator:
Yetta Gottesman
Length:
11:04
Type:
Unabridged Audiobook

When Casiopea unleashes the Mayan god of death, Hun-Kamé, she finally gets her chance. The two of them set off across Mexico to restore Hun-Kamé’s powers, facing demons, sorcerers and other supernatural dangers. It’s just as much about leaving home and facing the challenges that come with the big wide world as it is about ancient Mayan gods.

Fantasy Asks Us What We Believe In

The best epic fantasy audiobooks put their protagonists through a moral crisis. It’s not just the good guys vs. bad guys. These dilemmas ask their characters what they believe in and how far they’re willing to go to stand up for what’s right.

Of course, fantasy is written for audiences of all ages. Titles that cater to younger audiences put more distance between the fantasy of good and evil and the evils of the real world. They feature more clearly defined “good and evil” because younger audiences are still absorbing values and figuring out right from wrong. Stories like The Chronicles of Narnia put moral conflict in terms that are simple to understand, but that still challenge their young audiences to understand why the villains are bad. In Narnia, for example, what makes White Witch evil is her cruel treatment of others.

The Chronicles of Narnia Adult Box Set

Author:
C. S. Lewis
Narrator:
Kenneth Branagh, Alex Jennings, Michael York, Lynn Redgrave, Derek Jacobi, Jeremy Northam, Patrick Stewart
Length:
33:45
Series:
The Chronicles of Narnia (Publication Order)
Type:
Unabridged Audiobook

Fantasy for older audiences becomes much more complex. Sometimes there is no bad guy, just the ethical dilemmas of court intrigue, or a protagonist trying to keep their head above water in a corrupt world. These are the stories that ask their audiences: are you okay with that?

A castle sits silhouetted against the backdrop of a snowy mountainside

Facing Hard Truths in Fiction

Life is full of challenges, and fantasy has a way of dramatizing them that lets us see the unfairness of the world without losing hope. There’s always a way forward, even after experiencing traumatic events. That’s what resonates so strongly with Evan Winter’s ground-breaking The Rage of Dragons, an action-packed fantasy epic in an African-inspired fantasy world.

The Rage of Dragons

Author:
Evan Winter
Narrator:
Prentice Onayemi
Length:
16:15
Series:
The Burning
Type:
Unabridged Audiobook

Winter’s instant classic takes place in a war-torn world, but the protagonist Tau just wants a normal, peaceful life. He plans on getting injured after being conscripted so he can enjoy the rest of his life as a civilian. But when the war takes some of those closest to him, Tau sets out to become the greatest warrior he can be in order to seek revenge.

Audiences turn to fantasy stores like The Rage of Dragons to see characters like Tau rise to the occasion. The tough moments in life are definitive; they show us who we really are, not who we think we are. The Rage of Dragons and many of the top fantasy audiobooks out there transplant that basic fact of life into epic worlds and conflicts.

Why You Should Keep Coming Back to Fantasy

There’s a huge world of different kinds of fantasy stories out there. With Audible, you have access to a vast selection of audiobooks that show the diversity of fantasy. It’s a genre that tells all kinds of stories from different perspectives.

If you want to introduce your kids to something new, think about a fantasy series you loved as a kid. What did it teach you about life, growing up or standing up for what you believed in? Fantasy helps its audience think about who they can become. Sharing a beloved fantasy story from your own formative years is more than a great way to connect. It’s also a way to share the influences you had in your life.

With the enormous catalogue on Audible.ca, you won’t have any trouble finding audiobooks that go beyond escapism. If you want a title that challenges expectations and makes listeners rethink the world, fantasy is a great place to start your search. Find us on social media and let us know which fantasy series were formative in your younger years.

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All articles: fantasy, epic fantasy