For me, the problem with most books in the fantasy genre is that they are not fantastical enough.
It’s almost as if everyone is born with a tolerance for fantasy and magic, and mine is at the crawl-into-the-womb-of-the-story-and-live-there level. When things in a book are too realistic, whether the technology, or the setting, or when characters and the world they inhabit are not strange and surreal enough, I quickly lose interest.
I don’t want it to be just a different era, or to be set in the future, or with a different race of people – I want books to be so immersive and strange that it completely takes me out of everyday reality deep into something rich and hallucinatory. A world where everything introduced to the reader in it is a source of soul-squealing delight, odd and dream-like. Mad. To give you an example, the Harry Potter books, as well as the Hunger Games trilogy, two highly popular young adult fiction series, bore me to tears, even though the writing is wonderful and the characterization great and their themes nuanced.
Because, in the end, you can easily imagine them slotting into our world: a train that takes you to a magical school for wizards and witches, a world where young men and women fight to the death before cameras. It is too realistic. Obviously this view isn’t held by the general populace. In fact, most people like these kinds of books because it is so easy to imagine that the worlds created by the authors actually exist; that way, they can imagine more vividly themselves as a witch or wizard, or a Hunger Games contestant.
But – and at the risk of sounding like a whiny child – it is not enough. And I have often felt quite alone in this sentiment. The best way I can describe it is that there is this little window on the inside of my skull which looks out onto a magical realm where worlds fly past the glass like pinwheeling galaxies, each one stranger than the last. None, apart from trademark themes like good and evil, or the fact that most worlds we envision tend to involve people gathered in societies and groups, bear the slightest resemblance to our world – and that is what makes them so wonderful.
Yet what I have found is even these worlds, odd and fantastical though they may, when put down on paper in the form of words, become ordinary. Less magical. For instance, Perdido Street Station by China Mieville, the single book I have ever read which partially satisfied my desire for the fantastic, sports khepri, a race with enormous shiny scarabs for heads and female bodies with red skin, who communicate with each other using bursts of chymical scent unleashed from between their pincers. In concept, that is pretty fantastical – but once you write it down, it becomes commonplace. In the book, she is just another character, just like any ordinary woman in society, with ordinary concerns and hopes and desires.
Which kind of makes me think that, in keeping with everything my heart yearns for, a book possessing the degree of fantastical elements I am looking for does not and will never exist. That books are a reflection of the human experience, transmuted and distorted and put together in new and interesting ways, and what I am looking for, the euphoric rush of reading something truly bizarre and otherworldly, exists beyond human comprehension.
Or that perhaps this extreme desire to drown in the fantastical is a sign of unhealthy escapism from reality, which I am sure is not the case. I think. I mean, what constitutes as an unhealthy avoidance of reality, anyway? Frankly, with reality the way it is, dull and boring and the same day in and day out, who wouldn’t want to flee from it now and then? When I read or watch any film, I want to be completely transported from this world, into another realm, filled with strange cities and odd people and weird technologies, so bizarre it makes your brain nearly explode to encounter them.
This is part of the reason why I adore some of Miyazaki’s films so much (and if you have not seen any of Miyazaki’s films, you may as well not have lived, my friend, and should rectify that situation, pronto). “Naussica and the Valley of the Wind” is a favourite of mine by him, featuring a world inhabited by gigantic insects frightening as dinosaurs would be if they existed today living in “forests of decay” that spreads spores poisonous to humans far and wide across the barren land. Gigantic insects, large as mountains! You have to admit, that is pretty deliriously fascinating.
And there are also these enormous human-like beasts, tall as the sky, who can shoot great jets of light from their throats and wipe out entire cities in an entire breath, and are born from great, pulsating, fleshy sacs. Wild as this all might sound, especially if you haven’t watched the film, it still isn’t strange enough for me. Not transcendent enough, to the point where I feel like I am brushing up against something beyond that of the human world.
So most likely the kind of fantasy I would like to read, where imagination does not only push beyond its limits but leaves its limits light years behind, does not exist. My desire for complete immersion, to douse myself in the strange and bizarre until my heart and mind floats up into the ether, will probably never be satisfied. That, however, will not stop me trying – and if I cannot find any book close enough to what I want to read, I shall simply have to write one myself. A book as strange and mad and surreal as I can make it. Chances are the audience for such a book might not be as great as the more “realistic” novels out there, but that does not matter: if I can make even just one person squeal in sheer wonder as they flip the pages, I will consider my job done.