When I was a child I thought I would grow up to hunt monsters–all manner of beasts, and evil men as well. I thought I would be a righteous force in the world, that I would wield a blade like an overzealous paladin in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign to sort out the wicked from the goodly. (It bears noting I never played D&D until I was well into my 20s). My sense of morality then was certainly more black and white than it is now, and maturity has made the legality of certain dreams abundantly clear before my tired eyes. But I can’t help but wonder what else might be out there–things we can never fully understand about the world and ourselves, things that we don’t need to understand, only to feel.
It pains me to admit it as a scholar and a man of reason, but I fully believe the greatest wonders lie in mystery. To understand and explore the physical universe is one thing, and most assuredly it is a good thing, but to convince yourself that that is all there is seems (honestly) monstrous to me. Now, I am not a particularly religious person, but I wonder at the mysteries that still persist that we have not fully explained away. I find it thrilling to consider that there might still be some little glimmer of magic, of the supernatural, out there in our world. And deep down I hope that within that hidden world there might even be the monsters that so filled me with a sense of purpose in my youth.
Is that perhaps a bit off the mark? Does it sound insane? Selfish, in some odd ways? I think all of these might be true. After all, we are mere mortals–we’re all a little off the mark, a little insane, and a little selfish, at least sometimes. And it’s in that world of sometimes and maybes that fantasy will always thrive.
To paraphrase a saying from G. K. Chesterton, fairy tales (or fantasy stories, if you will) do not teach children that dragons exist, but rather that dragons can be defeated. I have learned to see monsters in a different light as I have gotten older. True, I have always known the most fearsome monsters were human beings themselves, but I have deepened my view beyond that. My monsters–those I have sworn to smite down and slay–are those things that stand in my way, that make me unhappy, and that prevent my enjoyment of my life. Most assuredly, other people stand in my way quite often but I do not do harm to them. Even slaying has taken on a different meaning as the child within recedes. In our world, where we are forced to be pacifist and complacent for most of our lives, the most heroic actions most of us will be able to commit all involve personal choices–and I equate slaying a monster with limiting negative influences in my life. I think that this is a point worth considering.
So what are your earliest experiences with the fantasy genre? What made you wonder if there was magic in the world? What are your monsters? Below, I also want to share with you three things that helped make me a fanatic of fantasy in my youth.
The Crystal Shard by R. A. Salvatore was the first of his books about the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden, and it taught young me a lot about honor, integrity, friendship, and acceptance. Though I’m sad to say I’ve outgrown a lot of Salvatore’s work, I owe him a debt for helping to expose me to a wide world of fantasy novels.
A video game:
I recently wrote up a nostalgia post about Diablo over at quaintjeremy’s thoughts. Go and give it a look when you have time, but the short version is that this game–a classic of dark, supernatural fantasy–entered my life at an appropriately dark time and provided me an outlet for my feelings, allowing me to feel powerful in a powerless situation.
And a film:
The 13th Warrior, a 90s movie starring Antonio Banderas based on a novel by Michael Crichton entitled Eaters of the Dead, is not a true fantasy story, but does share the same roots. Aside from being the only truly good Viking movie ever made, The 13th Warrior is also a re-imagining of the story of Beowulf, which many rightly argue was an inspiration for many early works of fantasy. I would say it is a close enough fit, though, based on the criteria I listed in my last post. Give it a viewing if you haven’t seen it and you’ll see what I mean.
And that’s what I have for this week. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.