By Bidita Sen
Many might think that JRR Tolkein was the last word in fantasy, and even if no one has really been able to match him in terms of sheer imagination and vividity of the breathtaking adventures he penned down, it was the Harry Potter books that ignited the reading habit among children. Seven of the Potter books and their several spinoffs later, children, it seems, can’t get enough of fantasy and adventure.
Be it the young children’s introduction to Enid Blyton’s cute adventures of the Famous Five or Amelia Jane or the pre-teen fondness for the likes of Rick Riordan, who doesn’t like a rollicking read?
Fantasies add wings to children’s imagination, and set them on a flight of fancy with the assurance of a safe landing. For adults, fantasies are more like romantic escapades, out of the tangible limits of reality to have a brief fling with characters of their choice in the land of dreams, unadulterated and unfettered by petty rules and regulations.
While it is hard to infer whether a childhood addicted to fantasy ensures a life-long loyalty to folds of books, writers of the genre are votaries of it, writing with the pledge of spawning a string of hits to keep the magic alive. For ages, fantasy writers have been articulate about their preferences, and the reasons behind it.
Taran Matharu, the author of Summoner-The Outcast, has his reasons well in place to justify his support for the genre. “In fiction, the writer is bound by the reality of the world we live in. In historical fiction, the characters must travel within the broad strokes laid out in the annals of history. Science fiction is restricted by technology, both imagined and real. Not so with fantasy. Fantasy is limitless.” The power to create anything in any time and place, and the ability to go wherever imagination takes you are the biggest draws for imagination getting the better of Matharu’s rational thinking whenever he takes up the pen. For him, scale matters. “Fantasy can be as big or as small as you want. It can take you to a new world, or even several worlds. Myriad cultures, locations and realities are there to be discovered,” he says. He loves to exhaust his imagination to explore contours of the ‘other’ world or worlds, unaffected by the vagaries of reality. “Exploration is a huge part of fantasy, and there is no genre that does it better,” he says, stating with conviction that, “It can be grounded in reality, with just a hint of the supernatural. It is the spice that takes a story from good to glorious.”
Matharu sees a “level of truth in the genre, which others cannot match”. He is only interested in the core truth of humanity — pure and glowing — sans the crease that rude reality leaves on it. “Even in the very act of stripping away what is real, we are left with the core of the human condition.” He believes the similarities between this world and the other are always highlighted in fantasies. “Even in another world, the issues that are explored match those of our own, and the contrast between the two in setting and culture only serves to highlight what is similar,” he says. For him the myths, legends and folklore and figments of our famed cultural heritage are the “reflections of our collective consciousness. Folklore and mythology constantly return to the same stories, the same imagined constructs, despite the divide of time, space and culture.”
Matharu both agrees and disagrees to the view that children are more attracted to the genre. “I think as we grow older, our curiosity and imagination are sometimes stifled by the realities of life. We allow ourselves less time to explore such things, and the escapism that fantasy brings can sometimes be seen as a luxury we don’t have time for.”
But, one thing that he can vouch for is the fact that Harry Potter has been the trigger for the extensive writing on the genre. “Absolutely!” he says, referring to his own personal experience. “I was first given Harry Potter at the age of 9. It was right before the series became a phenomenon — I hadn’t heard of it before. When I read Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone for the first of many times, in my eyes, it was like any other book. That was before I started reading it. I became an instant fan — I loved every page. I was one of the many readers who had the release date of the next book written in my diary. I count myself lucky to be in the first generation of Harry Potter fans,” he recounts.
JK Rowling has breathed life into the world of Harry Potter and, therein, lies the book’s success, says Matharu. “You believed it when you read it. And perhaps most important of all, it was a world you wished you could live in.” He admits that it is no coincidence that his first novel has a boarding school for a backdrop. “Harry Potter’s Hogwarts is close to my heart, and it inspired me to make my own magical school in the Summoner series. The series was very much my gateway to fantasy, both in reading and writing, and I think this likely to be true for many authors.”
The author of Empire of Sand, Tasha Suri, has always acquiesced to divine intervention in the form of a magical spell, whenever she takes to writing. “I couldn’t help but write fantasy. Every time I tried to write a serious story, a dragon would appear or something magical would happen, so really fantasy chose me!” she says. Fantasies play on human beings’ emotions, believes Suri. “Often our emotions feel far too overwhelming for our mundane lives, and fantasy lets you create a world where you can explore them.”
Suri refuses to classify children’s love for books into genres. “Children love good stories, no matter what genre they are.” But, with a pause, as if an afterthought, she conforms to the time-tested theory that “children are often more open to fantasy, because they’re open-minded and curious, and willing to explore different worlds and ways of being.” Hogwarts has certainly opened a lot of doors, introducing new readers to the genre, and giving birth to many writers. But, she doesn’t want to give the entire credit to the Potter series — “it’s just one among hundreds of amazing stories that have served to make young adult fantasy so popular.”
For the authors of Astra: The Quest for Starsong, Aditya Mukherjee and Arnav Mukherjee, it’s love for adventure stories that shaped their creative faculties to write fantasies. Aditya Mukherjee says, “We grew up reading The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Terry Pratchett, loads of comics. We even used to watch loads of animation shows. We loved Harry Potter’s adventures when they came about.” It’s difficult not to relent to the lure of fantasies even as adults, whether it’s Brandon Sanderson or Ursula le Guin.
“Some of our favourite movies are the masterpieces made by Studio Ghibli. So we’ve wanted to write fantasy our whole lives,” he adds. Children’s love for fantasy stems from their ability to suspend disbelief, says Aditya. “Imagination and reality are intertwined for them. That makes wonderful, magical worlds far more accessible to them. They can live in dreams, grow through them.” As a writer, Aditya finds it delightful to work on children’s stories because, “it let’s us live in the same magical place kids live in, even if for a little while.” He is on the same page with Matharu to credit Harry Potter for bringing fantasy literature to people, who might otherwise have not found it. “Harry Potter itself belongs to a long established genre — a genre that has brought joy to millions of readers before it was written,” he says, adding: “For lovers of fantasy like us, we are proud to contribute to this genre.”
The author of The Children of Destruction, Kuber Kaushik’s words resonate Aditya’s views and sentiments. “I was surrounded by books growing up, with fantasy and sci-fi taking top spots. Ever since, I’ve wanted nothing more than to create new worlds and explore the unknown. It became easier over time to slip into those worlds, and eventually there was a choice — write or go insane. The former is working well for the moment.” He thinks with each story he will explore something new and yet familiar.
He says children are born with the basic curiosity and fascination for the unknown, “and we hold on to that as we grow up. Fantasy and fiction are amazing ways to open up your horizons when young.”
He thinks it’s a wonderful way to meet other people or characters. “In The Children of Destruction, the characters are aged from 11 and 16 to even older than a millennium, and while the book is intended for young adults, I’d like to think that anyone who dives into a copy will find someone interesting that they can relate to.” He, however, refuses to consider Harry Potter as the sole trigger for extensive writing on the genre. “It has been the trigger for more people reading fantasy, or fantasy becoming a larger part of the mainstream conversation, but people have been writing fantasy and telling these stories since before we even had books.”
Nandan Jha, senior vice-president, product & sales, Penguin Random House, India, — says, “Fantasy and adventure are the leading genres in children’s books. Harry Potter, Rick Riordan, Cassandra Clare are some of the big names in the fantasy space, while Wimpy Kid, Geronimo Stilton, Enid Blyton lead the sales in the adventure genre. The mythology books for children’s by Sudha Murthy are also huge sellers for us. Film tie-in or TV tie-in editions provide extended shelf life to these books, especially in the fantasy genre,” he adds.