A student once asked me why I read so much. I didn’t realise, until I had explained it to him, that a vast majority of my reads are science-fiction (sci-fi) and fantasy.
As I explained to my student, reading is a gateway, a passport to anywhere I want to go and the opportunity to be anyone I want to be. If I am shy and timid in my everyday life, then in books I can be brave, bold, outspoken. I can stand up to bullies, be silly with my friends, go on grand adventures, see the world beyond my backyard, or see the world within my backyard.
Then my student asked what I like to read, so I began naming a few of the books I’ve read – Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Eathsea series by Le Guin, The Time Series by L’Engle, The Left Behind Series, Twilight (insert groan here), Stephen King, John Saul, Dean Koontz – and realised that, aside from being book series, they were all science-fiction or fantasy. I was suddenly aware that it wasn’t the other-worldly or supernatural aspect that drew me in to the stories but the very humanness of the characters.
These wonderful stories that often get overlooked or criticised for “not being real” are much closer to reality than many would like to admit. There are characters who have self-esteem issues, characters that have to grow up too fast or take on too much responsibility too soon, characters who are overconfident only to trip on their own pride. There are discriminations, family relationship issues, social relationship issues, the little guy fighting against the corrupt, stories of strength and hope and love.
We have all, at some point in our lives, experienced those very same issues. Maybe we were able to handle the situation ideally and say exactly what needed to be said exactly when it needed to be said. However, if you are anything like me, you have a tendency to struggle with at least one of those.
Science-fiction and fantasy allow us to see the very worst of ourselves as individuals, and as society as a whole, in a gently reflective manner while at the same time showing us the very best that we can be, the very best that we should be, and who we strive to be. The people who, at the end of the story, get it right despite the stumbling blocks, fire-breathing dragon, mad scientist, undead army, or “timey-wimey wibbly-wobbley stuff.”*