Adventure, world-saving heroism, character growth, and a little romance. These are elements in fiction that I absolutely love to read about, but they’re awfully hard to find in contemporary adult fiction, and even in contemporary young-adult fiction. Most contemporary fiction focuses very much on a character’s specific experience with ordinary circumstances, which can be intellectually stimulating or eye-opening, but for me not as inspiring as seeing someone rise to meet extraordinary circumstances. This is a preference, not an argument for the superiority of YA/MG fantasy over all other genres, but after years of bafflement I love being able to articulate why my first stop in a library or bookstore is always in the children’s section.
Let’s face it, it’s pretty unlikely that any one of us is going to be in a position to find the secret code that lets us deactivate the planet-detonating nuclear device in the nick of time. There are still plenty of ‘everyday heroes’ in the world, but most of us aren’t going to save our planet, or our country, or even our town single-handedly. But isn’t it nice to think that we could?
Fantasy shifts the rules of the world—intensifying and occasionally simplifying threats, tipping extraordinary events into everyday life—to let us follow the steps of ‘ordinary’ people very like us as they face those threats down. Young adult fantasy appealed to me all the more while I was growing up because it put all that heroism potential into the hands of people not much older than me. While my life centered around school, homework, and chores, it was exciting, inspiring…even comforting to think that it was possible for people like me to take on evil sorcerers, save the dragon race, or keep Chaos from swallowing the world. What’s more, relatively happy endings are a bit surer with fantasy than they are in reality, for obvious reasons. While it’s important to be aware that happy endings aren’t always guaranteed, it’s nice to see them happen. That promise of problems being fixed and having resolutions –unusual events in life, all in all—has always been a huge lure for me as well.
Also, quite simply, an adventure story with well-developed characters is entertaining, and that suits my mood more often than more literary, deliberately thought-provoking works (I do read these, but more sparingly). At the end of the day, I’d rather go for a dragon ride than…well…do just about anything. Even if it’s just on the page.