Thursday 3 March 2011

Below The Surface

I am an avid fan of fantasy fiction be it in novels, short stories or on stage or screen. I was captivated by Alice in Wonderland and A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a child and my love grew from there. Anything magical, legendary or out of the ordinary captivates me and I love to immerse myself in the richness of these stories. I am ever on the lookout for the next fantasy writer to catch my eye; and hope one day to be the next fantasy writer myself.

One of the challenges I face in life is constantly defending fantasy fiction to my friends and peers. ‘It isn’t real’ they insist. ‘There’s no depth to it’. It’s a load of ‘made up nonsense’, ‘it’s all magic and make believe: kids stuff’. These misplaced comments cause a swell of disappointment and pity in me for those na├»ve critics. They really have no idea what they are missing.

In 2003 I did a short stint of backpacking in Australia. I fell in love with Sydney while I was there, fascinated by this new land and the stark contrast between the lifestyle, attitude and let’s face it the climate of there and the UK where I have always lived. One afternoon, strolling through a supermarket a book caught my eye. It was a small paperback by a writer I had never before heard of but the ‘file under fantasy’ label caught my eye. The mystical cover and back page description was completely at odds with every other book on the shelf; those depicting promises of romance or ‘true stories’. Mark Anthony’s ‘Beyond The Pale’ immediately appealed to me and I parted with a precious six dollars (I was on a tight budget and this classed as a forbidden luxury item) and raced to the beach to start reading.

I think finding this book at this time really assured me that I was right to love fantasy and gave me the ammo I needed to finally keep those critics at bay. This book (and the rest of the series I acquired soon after) transports two humans from earth to another world and back again several times and contrasts their mundane lives on earth and what they leave behind with the magic, danger and power they are faced with elsewhere.

It is their discovery of the other world and all it has to offer that made me realise what fantasy fiction does. It places our expectations, assumptions and inner feelings into the unknown forcing us to acknowledge all that we have, all that we are and all that we desire. There is no escaping the depth of emotion and discovery that fantasy can portray and many good fantasy writers have taken me on a deeper journey from despair to elation and provided a level of understanding that I would not be able to relate to in another style.

It is the separation from reality yet the similarity in the relationships portrayed and the situations encountered that really enable the reader to empathise with the writing.  I would argue that, among fiction genres, fantasy has an added depth: a power that allows the reader to truly discover themselves as they travel with the characters.  

Elloise Hopkins.

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