"Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It's a way of understanding it."
The above quote by Llyod Alexander sums up a perfect response to any literary snob who looks down upon the sci-fi or fantasy genre by claiming these genres do not have any literary merit or lack depth and are simply a means to escape reality.
The fantasy and sci-fi genres have always had an ambiguous place in the world of literature. They have always been on the receiving end of morbid and unnecessary criticism by literary critics and English professors who insist these genres are "not real literature" simply because they are not grounded in reality.
A crucial reason why these genres are looked down on is that they are a part of the genre fiction as opposed to literary fiction which is considered superior. Writers of literary fiction tend to receive more literary awards and recognition. Moreover, people think literary fiction is more sophisticated because it has a complex prose structure and tackles serious themes. Even genre fiction can and does explore complex themes, but because it also seeks to entertain its audience and has a more accessible writing style, literary elitists wrongfully dismiss it for being superficial or having no value.
It is even more frustrating that such unwarranted criticisms come from people who have never even bothered to read these genres. If they had ever read stories of these genres, then they would know that many sci-fi and fantasy stories grapple with complex questions and touch upon many deeper issues of racism, prejudice, and justice.
Many people make you doubt your credibility as a reader for loving the SFF genre. As someone who has always been deeply fond of the fantasy genre, I always gravitated towards stories with fantastical elements and settings. But at one point in my life, I felt like I had to read the classics and long complex novels that I found boring before I could say that I was a well-read person. That was a period in my life where I did not enjoy my favorite thing in the world - reading. While I understood the significance and importance of works of classic authors such as Austen and Twain, I simply did not enjoy reading their work, and then I realized there is no point in reading books no matter how acclaimed they are if you do not like them. The merit of books is not directly proportional to their degree of seriousness, and stories are allowed to be both - complex as well as entertaining.
It has always irritated me when people continue to harshly criticize these genres and completely ignore the fact that the foundations of world literature are based on stories such as - The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Odyssey - all of which are fantasy stories. Even Shakespeare's plays such as - The Tempest, Hamlet, Macbeth, and many others have fantasy elements. Having fantasy elements in his plays did not detract from any of Shakespeare's plays, rather it allowed him to tell the stories that he wanted in a better manner, and the presence of fantasy elements made his plays more engaging.
Fantasy and sci-fi authors create complex and immersive worlds from scratch, allowing readers to get lost in worlds that do not exist. And in my humble opinion, writing a story in an already existing world is easier in comparison to writing a story set in a world of your own creation. The latter requires more skills and effort. So in that regard, authors of these genres deserve more recognition and applause for their creativity and imagination.
People who aggressively criticize the SFF genre for not being "real" forget a crucial point - all stories are fictional. Apart from memoirs and biographies, all stories are purely a creation of the mind. It's almost as if it is not the genre that people are uncomfortable with but with the imagination of the human mind that refuses to constrain itself to the realm of possibility and the known.
The presence of dragons, magic, aliens, robots, or any other fantasy or sci-fi element does not take away anything from a story. In reality, they broaden the horizons and allow writers to explore fascinating concepts and themes by going above and beyond the limits present in a grounded story. And in the end, we all read stories to seek comfort and find a sense of belonging, so what difference does genre even make? People should be allowed to read and write whatever they like without getting mocked for their preferences.
is a young writer from India who is currently pursuing Mass Media. Apart from reading and writing, she spends most of her time daydreaming and listening to music. You can find her on Instagram at @aastha.1703