I have been writing about very serious topics the past few months, so I thought I would take the time to write about a more personal topic. As the title implies, this topic is about reading fantasy again after a long time away. I actually read quite a lot for my degree, but while there are some fascinating academic books and articles, I have just never enjoyed them in the same way that I get stuck into a fantasy story.
To provide a little background context, I used to read a lot of fantasy. I would say that before I came to university, I really only read fantasy and maybe the occasional sci-fi book (although I never liked how they were always grouped together at the library). I remember how in 8th grade, we had to keep a reading list, and I was determined to read the most. I must have gone through at least 70 books that academic year. I was a voracious reader as a child, but I hardly ever read non-fiction. I remember in my first year of university, I read some fantasy towards the end of the year and at the winter break. After the summer of 2nd year (when I read another series), I do not think I picked up another fantasy novel until a couple weeks ago.
In fact, instead of fantasy, outside of my academic readings, I was reading The Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power during the first semester of this academic year. It was a fascinating dive into the failure of the United States to act in the face of genocide. Much as I am loathe to support military interventions, the book does make a very well-reasoned case to justify how and why the US could and should have acted to prevent genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, Iraq and Bosnia. While I would not necessarily have thought I would agree with the arguments in the book, I am much more in favor now of seeing how military intervention could be used to stop genocide (in certain circumstances). I believe that the book took me about 4 months to finish, and it was roughly 515 pages.
In contrast, the fantasy novel that I just finished took me under two weeks, and that is only because I was not reading it every day. It was only around 270 pages. I read The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, which is the first of two short story novels that have inspired the Netflix show: The Witcher and The Witcher video games. The stories follow Geralt (who is a witcher) on his various adventures. In that universe, witchers hunt monsters and are imbued with magical powers and have magical elixirs to give them inhuman strength. Geralt (and witchers in general) makes a good subject of the short stories because he has to constantly move around to find more jobs to kill monsters. Thus, we get to see Geralt in many different settings and with many different characters. I am currently reading the second of these books, The Sword of Destiny. The only reason that I have now gotten into these books is because my flatmate is a big fan of both the video games and the books (although not the TV show), and he lent me his copies.
The reason I highlight the difference in the length of time it took me to finish The Problem from Hell when compared with The Last Wish is because of how quickly I flew through The Last Wish. Reading the book so quickly reminded me of the old days when I would easily read 200 pages of a new book a day. I remember fondly when the new books from Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive came out. I sat holed up on a couch or in my room and devoured the text. It was a bittersweet feeling when I finished reading, but it brought me a lot of happiness.
What I mean when I say reading fantasy again brought me joy is that it reminded me of all those old memories sitting with a book and loving it. I really enjoy my degree and the readings for it, but they are not the same as sitting with a good fantasy story. I always loved the large-scale, epic fantasy tales replete with magic and dragons. They transported me to a world that was often based on our own but was also wildly different (obviously there is no magic in our world). It brought me back to all those hours spent reading The Wheel of Time, which has got to be one of the longest fantasy series ever written at a whopping 11,898 pages of text in the paperback editions.
Reading fantasy made me feel like a kid again back in that 8th grade classroom, happily reading the day away. Picking up a fantasy novel has really been one of the joys of coronavirus lockdown, and I’m really glad I was able to read one again. I love reading about the rise and fall of kingdoms, about gods and palaces, and about love and friendship. Fantasy novels have all those things and more. I feel like fantasy really lets the human imagination run wild. When you get to build up and create your own world, the plot and the setting are only limited by your own imagination.
I’ve also always liked fantasy on other mediums too. My favorite movie series is The Lord of the Rings, and The Return of the King is my favorite movie of all time. I played World of Warcraft for a few years in high school, and I also enjoyed playing Fire Emblem and games from the Legend of Zelda. It really feels good to take a break from reality and enjoy fantasy media that takes you out of the real world and transports you to a new world. That was also definitely true when I was playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses over the winter break. Particularly in the coronavirus pandemic, fantasy has brought a nice reprieve from the rounds of bad news constantly circulating these days.
Reading fantasy again has been a good trip down memory lane and has also made me realize the importance of reading for pleasure once in a while. All the political theory and historical books are great, but sometimes I just want to curl up with a nice book and lose myself in it.