Monday, November 29, 2010

"Who Am I?": One Loaded, Sticky Question Addressed by Fantasy Fiction

Kayla Carucci explains:

Motif: a literary convention we have all come to know and love, not to be confused with theme. Teachers pound it into your brain that themes are the most important part of a novel and if you miss the recurrent motifs, you have missed the point of the novel entirely. Common motifs are love, loss, coming of age, and identity/search for identity. Now that we've identified some of the most common motifs in literature, we can start to address the question of common motifs in Fantasy Fiction more specifically. I propose that one of the most prevalent motifs found in Fantasy fiction is the search for one’s identity.

Identity crisis is a common problem in life. We all experience it at one point or another in our lives whether it be when we hit puberty (say hello to hormones!), or in our middle age (that point in life everybody dreads because once they get there, you are officially no longer young). "Who am I?" is one of the most frequently asked questions in actual reality so it makes perfect sense that this is one of the most commonly asked questions in fantasy fiction. Most people think that fantasy fiction is just "fluff" or "light" reading that enables the reader to escape reality. Although this is a common school of thought, it's a wrong school of thought. Fantasy fiction is very relevant to our society and everyday lives because, in its own discrete ways, it helps us learn how to cope with our own identity crises.

Perhaps the most common time in our lives for identity crisis to occur is when one is in the dreaded teenage years. Everything is hitting you at once and it seems like nothing ever goes your way. You always feel like nobody understands your problems and therefore you are "a lone wolf," "alone in the universe," or any of the other millions of euphemisms teenagers use to describe their misfortunes while they are trying to find out who they are. Fantasy fiction with the theme of identity crisis or discovering one's true identity is a fantastic source to turn to for people going through identity crises of their own.

Sherri Tepper's The True Game is a perfect example of a work of fantasy fiction in which the main character, Peter, is trying to work through an identity crisis and discover who he truly is. Peter is a child who was dropped off by his parents in School Town as an infant so he has no clue who his real parents are (or if he even has them). On top of that, in the land of The True Game, you either have a talent, or you are a Pawn. Peter must discover his talent to find his place in society. This situation is perfect for a reader who is going through an identity crisis of their own to read about because it can help them work through their own crisis.

At the beginning of the book, Peter is in Schooltown where he is basically shielded from reality as he goes through his day-to-day routines. While he is in Schooltown he craves adventure, but is unaware that he will soon be confronted with the adventure of a lifetime as he is unexpectedly thrust into the True Game. Throughout the novel, Peter encounters many difficulties that assist him on his way through adolescence and also aid him in the discovery of who he really is. With each challenge, Peter grows into himself more than he thought he could. Finally, by the end of the novel, he has witnessed a great battle (and been a key player in it) and uncovered a portion of himself. He has learned part of his mysterious past and is well on his way to discovering the full truth about his parentage and his own identity.

Through fantasy fiction, a person can be comforted about their own identity crisis and work through it alongside the character that they are reading about. Having something to connect to and relate to is crucial to working through an identity crisis, and teenagers especially need this connection to feel that they are not going through their own version of hell alone. The connection that can be made between the quest for one to find their true self in the novel and the reader's own personal quest for who they are is what links fantasy fiction to reality. For this reason, identity crisis/search for one's true identity is one of the most common motifs in Fantasy Fiction.

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