What Makes It a Fantasy? Further Thoughts
© 2015 by Devorah Fox (Published at Fantasy, Mash-ups, & Mayhem with permission)
Last year as I prepared for the launch of The King’s Redress, Book Three in The Bewildering Adventures of King Bewilliam epic fantasy series, I ruminated on what makes a story a fantasy as opposed to general fiction.
Fiction is about made-up stuff. That’s why it’s fiction and not nonfiction.
I asked myself, is a work considered Fantasy simply by virtue of the degree to which the fiction is imaginative?
This year, my short story Turning the Tide was accepted for publication in Masters of Time. It’s a Sci-Fi and Fantasy anthology and I found myself pondering the difference between the two genres. I’ve seen the proposition that Science Fiction explores the possible, albeit improbable, while Fantasy explores the impossible, but I wouldn’t agree. I don’t see a clear distinction between imagining a world that includes aliens versus one that includes werewolves.
Ray Bradbury, whose work falls into both genres, suggested that science fiction is a logical projection of the future. Science Fiction takes as its departure point what we do know about reality whereas Fantasy is based in invention. I prefer to think that Fantasy explores what we don’t know about reality.
At the risk of sounding metaphysical, there are planes of existence for which we cannot provide evidence using our five senses. Nevertheless, spiritualists and religious leaders encourage belief in the numinous. Fantasy embraces the supernatural and the paranormal, but notice that “natural” and “normal” are at the root. I’d go even further and say that scientists are very imaginative and fantasize about what we don’t know—yet. They’re scientists because they then seek to prove or disprove that. Fantasists don’t seek proof.
Along those lines of thinking, I would say that science fiction uses known “hard science,” testable and quantifiable principles, to make the imagined seem possible. Fantasy stories rely on other disciplines such as magic for an explanation, or pose no explanation at all but simply suggest that the reader accept the imagined on faith.