The Realism of Fantasy

Christian Fantasy Quotes

Fantasy treeIn an essay on the writing of fiction, author Flannery O’Connor made a statement I thought worth sharing. She said:

“Fiction is an art that calls for the strictest attention to the real–whether the writer is writing a naturalistic story or a fantasy. I mean that we always begin with what is or with what has an eminent possibility of truth about it. Even when one writes a fantasy, reality is the proper basis of it. A thing is fantastic because it is so real, so real that it is fantastic…

“I would even go so far as to say that the person writing a fantasy has to be even more strictly attentive to the concrete detail than someone writing in a naturalistic vein–because the greater the story’s strain on the credulity, the more convincing the properties in it have to be.”

And she added, “The truth is not distorted here, but rather, distortion is used to get at the truth.”

Though I wouldn’t have chosen the word distortion, it fits in a sense that elements pulled from reality are reframed in a way that allows fresh perception of truth. And those truths, the realities of our world, must form the base for any good fantasy tale, no matter how unusual the created world or characters.

What do you think?

Image credit: Scabeater


  • Scathe meic Beorh
    June 5, 2012 - 7:44 pm · Reply

    I think that classic Fantasy, such as that written by Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, taken one step closer to what we call reality results in Magic Realism, which is really the wave of the future for both Fantasy and Horror. We have come to a point where dragons and faeries on the one hand and zombies and vampires on the other are just not getting us close to the Numen like they used to do, which is the whole point of fiction. Today I need a serial killer checked by a talking mouse. Today I need Oliver Cromwell’s army halted in their destruction of Ireland through spiritual warfare.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      June 11, 2012 - 4:35 pm · Reply

      Interesting thoughts, Scathe! I think classic or epic fantasy will always be around, but fantasy does seem to be branching out into a number of different directions. Certain tropes have been overdone, as you pointed out, and people are looking for something fresh and new.

      Magic realism is even showing up in the Christian market, with books like The Miracle of Mercy Land by River Jordan, The Opposite of Art and others by Athol Dickson, and Lucky Baby by Meredith Efken. These are more concerned with personal stories than something sweeping like the history of Britain, but nevertheless fall into the genre. It will be interesting to see how things grow.

      I’m not sure magic realism will ever by a personal favorite, but I have enjoyed the ones I’ve read…and I know there’s an audience for it. 🙂

  • Emily Sawyer
    June 25, 2012 - 3:42 pm · Reply

    Even though I don’t write, I found that very interesting! In a way it seems contradictory, and yet it makes complete sense.

    Also, as an aside, I love the picture at the top of the post! 🙂

    • Sarah Sawyer
      June 27, 2012 - 5:02 pm · Reply

      It does seem contradictory on the surface, but the more I considered it, the more I appreciated what she had to say. All the best fantasy novels feel real in a sense. For example, Tolkien infused Middle-Earth with such detail and history (realism) that the fantastic comes to life.

      And I love that picture too. It seemed to illustrate the point well. 🙂

      • Emily Sawyer
        July 2, 2012 - 7:14 pm · Reply

        It’s true; I suppose it’s the mark of a good writer when he (or she 😉 ) can present fantasy so believably. And as far as Tolkien goes, I’ve always been amazed by the complexity he displayed in his books, though I still have not read all of Lord of the Rings. The world, the characters, the languages…it’s slightly mind-boggling. He must have had some incredible dedication to his stories.

        • Sarah Sawyer
          July 3, 2012 - 1:03 pm · Reply

          He definitely had more dedication to his storyworld than most people, and it shows in the writing. I’ve often wished he wrote more books, but that’s the price to pay for all the time he spent developing Middle Earth and its inhabitants.

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