The subject was fantasy fiction. You know the sort of thing: Wizards, orcs, elves, dragons, enchanted swords etc. My friend said he didn’t read that sort of book because he wasn’t able to suspend his disbelief. I was duty bound to argue against him because… well, because we were in a pub and that’s what blokes do when they’ve had a pint or two. But then afterwards I thought about it a little bit more.
Why would it not be possible to suspend disbelief and read fantasy fiction?
Billions of Christians, Muslims and Jews believe that there is an invisible God in his heaven, or Paradise or call it what you
will. We may not share those beliefs but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I would challenge my friend to stand in the holy square in Mecca and tell the assembled throng that it’s all a fantasy and their holy book shouldn’t be read
as it requires too much suspension of disbelief. It’s OK. It’s quite safe. I won’t be going with him and I know what hymns he wants sung at his funeral.
If billions of people can suspend their disbelief in order to believe in a God, then what’s so hard about suspending one’s
disbelief over a story that is to be found on the fiction shelves? No one is saying its true (well a few deranged people may be but I’m not going to count them). All we fantasy fans are saying is that it’s an escape from the real world and into another.
The stories are as valid as they are in any other genre. They usually take the form of a battle of good against evil, during which quests are undertaken of duties carried out. Honour is high on the agenda, as is bravery, selfless devotion and many other altruistic character traits. Perhaps this is what’s wrong. Perhaps these things are so lacking in our modern world that some people can’t believe that they might still exist in a fantasy world.
There is an old tradition of fantasy fiction, of course, though it isn’t always recognised as such. First we have Arthurian
legend. Now, on the surface we have a story about men battling against evil, which forms the core of many a good novel. But we also have a wizard (Merlin), a witch (Morgana), a magical sword in a stone (Excalibur), a mysterious lady in a
lake(anonymous) and so on. In its basic form it’s no more fantastic than Tolkien.
Then we get to the legend of Robin Hood. There is no evidence that he ever existed and what few historical bits of evidence that suggest someone resembling him did exist don’t portray a picture of the hero of the medieval peasants that robbed from the rich to give to the poor, but a petty criminal who robbed from anyone and kept the loot for himself. OK, more of a legend than a fantasy, but one we buy into.
We mustn’t forget the Daddy of them all William Shakespeare. In his plays we have a ghost in Hamlet, another one in Macbeth along with three witches, in The Tempest we have a fairy and some sort of troll (Caliban) and of course A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream which is littered with fairies and in which Bottom is given a pair of donkey’s ears, as though that
were normal. Charles Dickens isn’t averse to using ghosts if it suits his purpose, as he shows in A Christmas Carol (which I parody on this website), while Bram Stoker gave us Dracula and Mary Shelley provided us with Dr Frankenstein’s hand built monster. None of these books or plays were aimed specifically at children, which is where my friend thinks is the target audience for most fantasy fiction lies.
Now, I’m probably going to upset a few diehard fans here, but I’m going to suggest that the great British Hero James Bond is no more believable as a character than Bilbo Baggins. What is my justification? I hear you ask (I have good hearing). Let’s look at the evidence. Cars that turn into submarines, wristwatches that contain lengths of garrotte wire, cars with
ejector seats and so on and so forth. But that’s all boy’s own gadgetry and no more of a fantasy than a sword that glows blue when there are orcs around . The real fantasy is Bond himself. A suave, debonair killer who’s also a babe magnet
and can get into a fight with half a dozen Kung Fu masters and walk away leaving them in a crumpled heap. He’s been shot so many times he must resemble a colander. He’s fallen from trains, planes and ski slopes. While Ian Fleming and
the writers who continued the franchise never claimed magical powers for Bond, does this not require just as much suspension of disbelief as it does to read about Gandalf? Bond may not have “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find
them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.” But that was because Q never quite got round to finishing it (But just wait for the next movie – you read it here first).
There is of course another literary genre that is just as fantastical and requires just as much suspension of disbelief. No I
don’t mean horror, which I regard as a subset of fantasy, I mean Sci-Fi. People who will gladly suspend disbelief to accept the premise of strange creatures inhabiting worlds far from our own are sometimes reluctant to do the same for
stories containing wizards and dragons. Why?
Science does suggest that life may exist on other planets. Indeed it’s been said that it would be a strange universe if life
didn’t exist on other planets. However science has no idea what form it may take and what its capabilities might be. This is the space that the sci-fi writer inhabits, if you’ll pardon the pun. The space where anything is possible providing the author doesn’t actually ignore the laws of physics. But sci-fi writers do that all the time as well. Time travel, warp speed, sub space, hyperspace, dilithium crystals. Do these sound familiar? Which ones are made up and which does science accept as being possible? No I don’t know either. Dilithium does exist, you can Google it, but can you use it to power a space ship? So, where’s the difference between fantasy and sci-fi? Why is one believable to my friend but the other not?
So where do you stand on this issue? Do you read fantasy novels? If not, can you tell me why you don’t? For those that do then you may be interested in reading my novel The Inconvenience Store. While it is set in the 21st century here on the Earth It definitely requires the reader to suspend their disbelief. There are two stories for the price of one, and I’m working on a third story in
the series for publication later this year.