“The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake.

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.

They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to Middle Earth.”
– George R.R. Martin

From the time I could read through about elementary school, it is fair to say that my best friends were books. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on—sports, history, fantasy, comics, classics, science fiction, mystery, etc. I did not try to justify what I was reading or calculate if it would be worth my time; all I cared about was my engagement with the text.

As I’ve grown into a (debatably) full-fledged adult, my reading habits have shifted. I read a lot of news, partly because I enjoy it and partly as a function of my job. I also read non-fiction books which advance my education in areas of interest (favorites include The War that Ended Peace and Poor Economics) that contribute to what I perceive as my betterment as a person. There is nothing wrong with this; indeed, I think it is natural, as we become more educated and more thoughtful individuals, to tend towards literature which is intellectually stimulating.

Despite this transition, fantasy stories have retained their power over me. There is a tangible feeling of escape I get from opening a fantasy novel. Life no longer is about filing papers or planning for the future or buying groceries; it’s about going on quests and drinking with travelers in taverns and trading stories around a fire. Poor Economics makes me think. Fantasy stories make me feel. Not for no reason do Brian Jacques and J.R.R. Tolkien and Patrick Rothfuss devote so many pages to feasts and ballads and poems. To quote Martin again, “Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end.” Why should I slog through the streets of Washington when I can stroll the halls of Rivendell?

We are told as children as that we can be anything that we want to be. In my childhood, the list of dream jobs included—was possibly headed by—knight-errant. I designed a standard (a silver ship on a blue field) and doodled swords and bows in the margins of my notebooks. I waged entire campaigns while walking my paper routes, fighting heroically against impossible odds and emerging victorious time and time again. These stories, which had been a major part of my life when I was younger, gradually ceded more and more mental space to practical needs and desires. But when I read fantasy, I can re-enter the world of my childhood—a place where what you are depends only on what you can imagine.

So Martin was right. If anyone needs me, I’ll be at the Green Dragon buying rounds.

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