Over the years, there have been many contradictory opinions regarding the value of reading fantasy books. Some believe that fantasy books have a worthwhile benefit in the real world, while others are of the complete opposite perspective.
So the question remains, which one of these viewpoints is right?
It is not a waste of time to read fantasy books because they offer invaluable perspective to see reality in a new light, strengthen your ability to empathize with others, and cultivate a sense of identity through vicarious interactions with the characters.
These are but a few remarkable benefits that come with reading fantasy. Below, we’ll delve into these prominent benefits to a greater degree, along with several others, to make you rethink how you perceive the value of the fantasy genre.
Introduces You to New, Enlightening Perspectives
The foremost benefit of reading fantasy novels is that it exposes you to a variety of perspectives that you would’ve never been subjected to otherwise.
While reading fantasy books, you see things through the lens of the characters. That lens is inherently biased to whatever their mentality or attitude toward life may be. This point of view may be the same, different, or somewhere in the middle of how you perceive reality.
In the real world, there are very few opportunities for us to truly get in touch with newfound perspectives. Often times, newfound perspectives must be earned the hard way through life experiences. Unfortunately, we as humans only have so much time on this Earth with only so many experiences to live through. Since many of us have such limited experience, our perspective on reality is limited by default.
Fantasy books offer readers the chance to live multiple lives through its characters. By doing so, readers not only gain perspective through their life experiences, but the experiences of these fantasy characters as well. Although the specific scenarios presented in these narratives may not be possible in the real world, the perspective drawn from these experiences does have applicability.
For example, many fantasy authors deliberately write in certain characters that have flexible morals. These types of characters are often faced with tough ethical dilemmas where the right choice isn’t so clear. Rather than a strict decision between good and bad, it would be a better assessment to say that decision is between bad and worse.
In these scenes, fantasy writers challenge our own perceived notions of good versus bad, forcing us to redefine the line of what we believe is right and wrong.
Such perspective comes at a great expense in real life because there are consequences to be paid with every decision we make. The fortunate thing about reading fantasy books is that the characters pay the consequences for us, affording us the opportunity to gain perspective without the associated repercussions.
Enhances Your Ability to Relate to Others & Feel Empathy
In addition, reading fantasy novels on a regular basis has a positive effect on social relatability and empathy.
Only through stories are you able to genuinely understand and share the feelings of another person. By following a fantasy character along for the entirety of their quest, you inevitably develop your ability to relate to people. After all, you’re quite literally putting yourself in someone else’s shoes page after page, chapter after chapter.
This rare opportunity to couple yourself to another’s emotions, thoughts, and experiences forces readers to think beyond themselves. This may seem trivial, but this is a critical step in learning how to interact with others in an effective manner. Individuals that are unable to cross the bridge of detaching from themselves will never be able to connect with others on a personal level.
There have been studies to confirm this. In one such study, changes in social cognition were measured in a group that read purely non-fiction and a group that read purely fiction. According to the data, there was a slight, statistically significant increase in social-cognitive performance in those who read fiction compared to non-fiction (source).
Empathy is a skill that is invaluable in the world today, as people are becoming increasingly interlinked through technology. In order to work effectively with others and solve real problems as a cohesive unit, it is absolutely key for a person to have a strong sense of empathy.
Solidifies Your Own Identity By Living Vicariously Through Characters
In addition to perspective and empathy, living vicariously through the characters can also help guide you in establishing your own sense of identity.
As aforementioned, the characters written in the fantasy genre are extremely dynamic. Each character has a unique background, an exclusive set of personality traits, and a singular way in which they interact with the world around them.
Practically all fantasy characters have something to offer when it comes down to shaping identity. In certain situations, both protagonists and antagonists act as exemplary models of how you should carry yourself or how you shouldn’t carry yourself.
By seeing through the specific lens of these characters, you subconsciously absorb bits and pieces from these characters and incorporate them into yourself. This is especially true of young readers that could use a great deal of assistance in defining their moral and ethical code and molding the core of their personality.
I know this certainly holds true in my experience. I’ve tried to embody the honor of Eddard Stark from A Game of Thrones, personify the confidence of Gavin Guile from the Lightbringer Series, and mirror the boldness of Locke Lamora from The Lies of Locke Lamora.
Put simply, fully submerging myself into the minds of these characters has helped me to explore what my own personal virtues are. Although I still have a considerable amount of work to do when it comes to defining who I am and what I’m about, reading fantasy novels has certainly helped me to take multiple steps in the right direction.
Allows You to Break Away from Traditional Lines of Thinking
Since fantasy invites you into worlds with an altered reality, it makes sense that these novels would help you to break away from a traditional mindset. These novels exercise your creativity and encourage thoughts that lie beyond the norm.
Some of you may see this as a negative—rather than a positive—because of the emphasis that society places on practical thinking. The main issue with this perspective, however, is that creative thought is what drives the world forward.
To be perfectly clear, not all creative thought presented by fantasy authors is meant to change the world. For example, the creative imagery of dragons and elves described in many fantasy books is not what pushes the boundaries of civilization, however enticing the thought may be.
Rather, there are particular abstract notions and ideas that are often coined as mere fantasy, but have the potential to become something concrete in the real world.
For example, the fantasy work—which would later foster the literary sub-genre of science fiction—Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne described an underwater vessel dubbed The Nautilus in the year 1870. This underwater vessel was so intricate and detailed, that it convinced a young man by the name of Simon Lake that this mere fantasy could actually be brought to the real world.
Years later, the first modern submarine, dubbed The Argonaut, was completed. Verne later issued a letter of congratulations to Lake on his groundbreaking success in 1898 (source).
There are multiple other instances of fantasy ideas inspiring groundbreaking inventions in the real world, including the helicopter, cellphone, and rocket. If you would like to know more about exactly how fantasy authors inspired these inventions, click over to The Actual Purpose of the Fantasy Genre Exposed.
Immerses You in the Thoughts of Intelligent Novelists
Moreover, devoting the time to read fantasy novels by acclaimed authors affords you the rare chance to immerse yourself into the minds of highly intelligent individuals.
Fantasy authors lay out their thoughts on paper with every piece that they publish. This has very critical implications for readers in that it teaches them an invaluable lesson: how to think effectively.
With every conflict posed by a renowned author, there’s an equally effective resolution that they drum up. Furthermore, these authors craft meticulous arguments so that their characters can defend their choices and eventual actions. Successful fantasy authors also communicate underlying literary themes and metaphors without ever explicitly declaring them to the reader.
Fantasy novelists provide readers with page after page of well-thought out fictional worlds. Delving into these fantasy works ultimately shows us new, inventive ways of how to structure our thoughts in a clear, concise manner. It goes without saying that critical thinking is an essential skill in modern society, so the benefits of such exposure cannot be quantified.
In short, if you want to learn how to think critically, immersing yourself in the mindset of fantasy authors can be an effective approach. This approach is akin to immersing yourself in an entirely different country to learn a new language. Sometimes, complete immersion is the most effective way to pick up on vital skills.
Improves Writing Composition, Structure, & Fluency
If reading fantasy novels improves upon the ability to think critically, it also improves upon the ability to write, as discussed earlier.
Everyone knows that reading books diversifies your vocabulary, but did you know that reading fantasy books in particular could actually boost your vocabulary even more than reading non-fiction books?
In a recent study, the vocabulary of fiction readers was monitored and then compared to the vocabulary of non-fiction readers. Once all the data was gathered, the researchers found a statistically significant increase in vocabulary size in fiction readers over non-fiction readers (source). This data is fairly reliable as well, with 287,314 total responses!
Aside from the additional expansion in vocabulary, reading fantasy also exposes us to refreshing scholarly ideas, including, but not limited to:
- techniques to string together ideas cohesively
- unfamiliar writing styles
- unique literary voices
- ways to breathe life into our writing
Over time, these new literary concepts can find their way into our drafts and make us more well-rounded writers. If you’re fond of crafting essays and stories, this can be what separates your work from the rest.
In the words of the highly esteemed Stephen King,
Speaking from my personal experiences as a blogger, I can definitively say that my writing would be worse off had I not allocated so many hours to reading fantasy novels. In fact, I occasionally notice that my writing quality takes a noticeable dip when I fail to maintain a regular reading schedule. Since I write nearly every day, this can be a tremendous blow to my work.
Stimulates Thought-Provoking Questions Regarding Life Philosophy
Another reason why fantasy novels aren’t a waste of time is that this reading genre has a knack for prompting readers to ask important questions regarding life philosophy.
At the heart of every fantasy novel lies the hero’s journey. As a quick reference, the hero’s journey is a character’s quest to find something that they desperately need (source). Often times, this quest—and the thing that the character is seeking—offers insight into the inner workings of knowledge, reality, and existence.
By seeing how these fantasy characters look to define the world around them and uncover the purpose of their existence, these narratives ultimately act as a guide as you embark on your own hero’s journey.
Figuring out which direction you want your life to go is a lifelong process. As you grow and mature, your philosophical insights inevitably adapt with these experiences. Although fantasy stories are not real, this does not mean that the philosophical lessons they have to offer are not applicable to reality.
With fantasy novels, you get to see exactly how fantasy characters went about answering life’s biggest question, “What is my purpose here?” Some fantasy characters want to conquer the world, while others simply want to lead a better life for their family. The approaches they take and the knowledge they gain can be a useful resource to you in refining your own life’s purpose. Such resources are difficult to come across in the real world.
Teaches You How to Approach Conflict from Various Angles
Additionally, fantasy novels are filled with a variety of troublesome conflicts that characters must deal with on a regular basis. After all, any story without conflict is hardly worth reading. In fantasy, the more conflict there is, the better!
With all this conflict circulating throughout the fantasy genre, readers are introduced to an assortment of ways to handle real world problems.
For example, there are numerous examples of fantasy characters that deal with conflict head-on by using aggression and ruthlessness to accomplish their goals. A classic example of this is Black Dow from the First Law Trilogy, who’s main prerogative is to kill first, ask questions later.
There are other fantasy characters that stand idly by when conflict heads their way. A classic example of this is Brother Longfoot from the First Law Trilogy, who vanishes every time that his traveling group finds its way into combat.
Although the examples above are rather extreme, you can take certain aspects of these approaches to conflict and apply them to your own life. Have you ever taken the Black Dow approach and simply removed a problem rather than deal with it constructively? Or have you taken the Brother Longfoot approach and hoped that someone else would deal with your issues for you?
With such a wide variety of conflict resolutions in fantasy, you’re bound to discover a strategy of dealing with conflict that works best for you. At the very least, it’ll prompt you to start rethinking how you personally deal with problems and whether this approach has any underlying flaws.
Offers a Much Needed Break from the Everyday Routine
Lastly, fantasy novels give readers a nice break from the everyday stresses of reality. Taking your mind to an alternative reality can definitely spice things up in your life.
Although modern society places a heavy emphasis on productivity at all times, we’re not robots. We, as humans, need to detach ourselves from our work every so often and remind ourselves of the bigger picture. There aren’t many better ways to do that than to immerse ourselves into a good story.
Humans have been recounting stories to each other ever since we learned how to talk. Storytelling is a foundational element of human nature. It would be foolish of us to disregard fantasy narratives just because they don’t fit today’s standards of productivity.
Happiness isn’t a measurable quality, so it’s hard to say whether reading fantasy is beneficial to you or not. Only you know the answer to whether fantasy novels improve the quality of your life.
If fantasy novels don’t make you happy, then don’t read them.
But if they do provide you with a brief moment of joy here and there, I wouldn’t even concern myself with the opinion that fantasy books are a waste of time. If fantasy books make you happy, then read them!