Thursday, December 16, 2010

Can Anything Come from Studying Fantasy Fiction?

One of my students who wishes to remain anonymous answers affirmatively:

When studying fantasy, a question of vast importance must be asked: is studying fantasy fiction relevant? And can anything come from studying this specific genre of fiction? Critics and skeptics alike have long questioned the value of fantasy, often doubting its place in education and academic institutions. This question long surrounding the genre can be answered by simply picking up a work of fantasy and falling into the majestic world that awaits you.

As a student who has never studied or read a work of fantasy prior to taking Fantasy Fiction, I can attest to the genre's relevance in academia and society and proudly confirm that one can take away as many life lessons and ideas from a fantasy work as a history textbook or literary landmark. My first fantasy reading experience was reading Tolkien's The Hobbit. From there the class covered fantasy classic after classic, from Lewis's The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe to more relevant staples in the genre like Pullman's The Golden Compass. There is no novel that proves fantasy's relevance more successfully than Piers Anthony's A Spell for Chameleon. Anthony tackles the "coming-of-age" story in a fresh new way by telling his story in a fantasy world, allowing the reader to converge into an unknown place, taking away from Bink's tale entertainment and more importantly a new interpretation of growing up and finding oneself in the journey known as life. Previously, I have only encountered life-altering "coming-of-age" tales from movies, music, and early- to mid-20th century fiction by the likes of Flannery O'Connor and Stefan Zweig.

A Spell for Chameleon in the first novel in Anthony's Xanth series. The novel follows the main character Bink in his quest to find magic and ultimately himself along the way. At the surface, the story is simply an entertaining tale of Bink traveling through the world of Xanth on a quest to find his calling in life. Looking deeper, however, we find that Bink is a character much like you and me, a young person searching for acceptance and growing into the person we were driven to become. This is a lesson useful and relevant to any young person growing up around the world. It delivers life lessons in a unique, distinct way apart from all other genres. A passage that illustrates the novel's purpose and Bink's character can be found in chapter four, when Iris elaborates her feelings to Bink: "Most magic talents aren't worthwhile anyway. What use is it to make a pink spot appear on a wall? It may be magic, but it doesn't accomplish anything. You, with your strength and intelligence, have more to offer than the great majority of citizens" (Anthony 83). This statement by Iris illuminates Bink's moral character and foreshadows that in order for Bink to find his purpose in life he must first believe in himself and find out who he really is.

I can relate to Bink's character on many levels, which is why I felt so drawn in to Anthony's story. Believing in yourself is often difficult when confronted by life's curveballs. Whether it's tackling family misfortunes, the stress of college and upper level education, or a job that just appears too difficult, something circumstances like these prevent me from believing in myself. These factors can cloud the mind, making any situation that much harder. What I got from this passage is that not everything is how it seems; having four degrees hanging from a wall or making six figures a year doesn’t make you successful, it's all about morality and a willingness to succeed.

Growing up, we all encounter obstacles on our path to adulthood and success. The key to life from my experience is happiness. It can be assumed that feeling estranged from the world you live in and the people who surround you is not a feeling of joy or enlightenment. As readers, we must ask ourselves, is Bink's story a matter of finding his power? Or finding the roots of his repressed happiness? The answer is both. Without Bink's desire to find his magical powers, there would be no journey, no encounter with Chameleon, and ultimately no conclusion. But it is our duty as an audience to see through Bink's superficial desires to find Anthony's themes on growing up and finding happiness. I often relate to this question and Bink's quest by asking myself, "Does everything happen for a reason?" and citing the balance between "risk & reward." Towards the end of the novel, Bink comes to realize that changing who he is for the sake of Xanth is not his purpose in life. He soon realizes it is his duty to change Xanth's perspective and accept everyone who calls Xanth their home, no matter their powers or place in society. Anthony writes, "But Bink's real quest, at the end, had been to preserve Chameleon and Trent and himself as they were, and to make Xanth accept them that way" (344). This passage illuminates the novel's purpose and sends a life-altering message to readers that could not be attained be reading magazines or scholarly journals.

In my short 21 years of life, I have come to the conclusion that the key to happiness is to remain true to yourself, your loved ones, and ultimately live life by your own set of rules and morals. This novel and Bink's character embody this philosophy, and a lot can be taken away from Anthony's fantasy saga. Before reading this work, I had discovered and read many "coming-of-age" tales. Some movies that had a positive effect on my mentality regarding growing into myself are Fight Club, Stand By Me, and The Goonies. Literature-wise, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton was a novel that had an immediate effect on the lens through which I viewed adolescence, while O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge is a collection of short stories that also changed my perspective the last few years. While these movies and fiction works moved me as a teen, I have constantly been looking for new ways to hear these types of stories. Piers Anthony was able to speak to me through his character Bink, and despite the message stressing the importance of values and morals, Anthony's fantasy world was a refreshing, mind-stimulating take on a classic theme of pop culture. I look forward to reading more from Anthony, and carrying on through the Xanth series.

Work Cited
Anthony, Piers. A Spell for Chameleon. New York: Del Rey, 1987. Print.

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