Ellen Gregory on “Why I Write Fantasy”

“There’s a strong element of ‘write what you know’ as well. I read a lot of fantasy and I connect with it, so it feels perfectly natural for me to write it. I think many people don’t understand that fantasy is largely about real stuff — characters just as real as any fictional character, with the same spectrum of emotions, faced with the same tough decisions, interacting with each other in the way humans do (note: the vast majority of fantasy characters are human).

“Moreover, in just about every fantasy world there are reflections of our own. Urban fantasy is indeed set in a version of our own world; in the case of epic fantasy, which is usually set in a made-up world, elements of that world are often drawn from this world’s history and culture. To illustrate this, consider the classic fantasy trope of horse riding to get around. Or what is used for sources of illumination. Or food. Or materials. Not all these will appear as ‘familiar’ in every fantasy novel, but you can be certain that other reflections of our world will be present instead.

“This is why [the inevitable disparaging] comment about ‘don’t have to do research’ [to write Fantasy] really annoyed me. There is plenty of research that needs to be done so that all the little familiar details are accurate. These provide the foundation on which the fantastical world is based — and that’s when the hard work begins. Because the moment something is invented, or skewed, its ramifications for everything else must be determined. Magic always has a price, inventing creatures requires whole ecologies to be developed, and creating cultures and political histories opens up a can of worms that must be subdued and controlled.

“I love it. Immersing myself in someone else’s richly realised world is delicious, like being an armchair tourist (except you actually wish you could go there). And creating my own world is thrilling and challenging. I can see why non-converts can be dismissive of fantasy as merely ’escapist’, but it’s an ignorant and narrow view. I read (and write) fantasy because it adds another layer to the journey of discovery. In addition to a conspiracy/mystery/family secret/relationship to be uncovered, there’s a whole world waiting to be revealed as well.

“Even more significantly, in addition to adding texture and wonder, the fantastic world provides a canvass for the exploration of grand themes. Ultimately the imaginary world becomes the stomping ground of a cast of characters who are tested by love, betrayal, prejudice, greed, violence, guilt, hatred, rage along with everything else. Fantasy allows us to strip everything back to the bones and invent the perfect crucible into which we toss our characters to see what they’ll do.

“It’s not about ‘escaping’ reality, but embracing it. Fantasy allows us to probe and examine the fundamental themes of life and consider what makes us human.”

Ellen Gregory is a Melbourne writer with a special love of writing fantasy fiction. In her blog, she meditate upon just about anything related to writing, reading and publishing fantasy.