September 14, 2016 by Zoë
I want to preface this whole post by saying that it was inspired by–and refers frequently to–A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. As I was reading the book, I recognized the fact that I really enjoyed it, even as I also recognized that it was playing right to a whole bunch of my fantasies. Meaning it was like candy: sweet and easy to consume, but generally lacking in substance. Which, besides the whole creepy, abusive relationship thing, is exactly what was going on in Twilight as well.
And so that realization got me thinking: what is the role of fantasy in fiction? What is the role of fantasy in young adult fiction?
First, I’m going to list some of the fantasy points that A Court of Mist and Fury hit on for me:
- Girl holding her own and having an important place among fairies
- Mysterious, angsty guy who turns out to be caring and has eyes only for the MC
- Rough and yet totally vanilla and safe sex that is always perfect
Obviously, some of these things are totally unrealistic, such as soulmates. Love isn’t a destiny that guides your steps into an eternal, perfect relationship; you have to work for it. But it’s still nice to think that your love life has already been figured out and fated for you. It’s still nice to think that there’s a guy out there who can be dark and brooding and simultaneously head over heels for and devoted to you. It’s fantasy: it’s great to think about and it’s totally unrealistic.
So because it’s unrealistic, should it have a place in fiction?
The obvious answer is of course. I don’t believe in censoring writing, even writing that I don’t particularly care for. But going further, I’m not sure how much rampant fantasy with no hint of reality adds. Sure, I enjoyed A Court of Mist and Fury quite a lot, because it was easy to put myself in the place of Feyre. Will I read it again? Honestly, probably not. It was fun and that was about it.
Which brings me to my final point. These sorts of books and plot points are so immediately gratifying because they’re safe. I was never truly worried about Feyre. Rhysand is fierce and potentially evil, but Maas quickly makes it clear that he doesn’t mean any harm to Feyre, no matter what she might think. So his romancing of her does not have an element of true danger and is merely exciting. For me, this feeling extended to the danger that Feyre felt from other fairies and other courts. That danger never truly felt real, making the story easy and safe to read.
There’s nothing wrong with safe books. I think there’s definitely a place for them. But there’s also a place for books that stretch our safe zones and go beyond simple fantasies.
So what do you think? Do you read wholly self-indulgent books? Why or why not?