So, what is fantasy?
I hear this question asked a lot. Most often, the answer comes among rambling paragraphs about casting spells and riding dragons and defeating evil wizards. Is this wrong? No. Fantasy can be all those things, but I’m not convinced it must be only those things.
When I started my mfa at Seton Hill, I wanted to write a fantasy novel that didn’t have a lot of magic. As an unexperienced writer, I thought this was because I wanted to “break out of the mold” or whatever other saying I had at the time. Now, two and a half years later, I’ve realized that it wasn’t the mold at all. I wanted to write a story with little magic, not because I necessarily didn’t want magic. No, I didn’t want the magic to get in the way of the story or, more importantly, the characters.
While fighting the endless battle of getting a novel to work, I’ve learned so much about the people I’ve chosen to inhabit my world. The villain has fantastic power, and he is really the only one. There are magical swords. My heroine makes use of the power the swords give without realizing it, but at the end of the day, the only thing that she (and, ultimately, the reader) thinks she has in her favor is determination and skill. There’s no blanket of safety in spells. She can’t wave a wand and curse her enemy or call a fire-breathing dragon or give herself super strength. What she can do is fight hard and care even harder.
And yet, the story is still fantasy because it contains some fantastic elements. It contains larger-than-life threats that force impossible odds on my heroine, but she persists. It’s not about what magic can do. It’s not about how she can use magic. It’s about how she fights, using only who she is and what she believes, as weapons. It’s a novel about one person’s struggle, and really, isn’t that what stories are?
“So, what is fantasy?”
For me? Fantasy is a story about people who happen to be surrounded by/have fantastic abilities. When the magic eclipses the struggle, the fantasy has lost its ability to relate to the real world. I read about dragons and wand-waving and magical battles as much as the next fantasy buff, and I love me a good supernatural smackdown any day. But I want characters to grow and change and use who they are, not what they can do, to ultimately emerge victorious.
So what is fantasy? It’s a story about people who are just people facing things that are much larger than them.
Mary DeSantis, also known as desantism, is an –ism—almost enough said. After spending the first twenty-something years of her life in a small city fifteen miles north of Boston, she up and moved to North Carolina, where she’s resided for about two years. Mary has been an avid Disney lover from age too-young-to-remember and, as a result, writes fantasy, often about royalty and soldiers. When she’s not slaving away in front of her computer, Mary can be found belting Disney songs at the top of her lungs, hanging with her local buddies from Write Club (which she’d discuss, but the first rule of Write Club…), getting lost in a book, or learning to fight fire breathing dragons.