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Open to Rediscover the Magic in our World?

Does fantastical fiction help us cope with our changing world or does it distract us from reality?

Imagine… you are walking through a forest that is lush, green, and enchanting. The trees seem to creak and talk to one another in the breeze. A small group of dragonflies flit about in circles around you before zipping away. The sunlight stretches its arms through the cracks in the forest canopy. There are bright-coloured mushrooms growing at the base of the tree trunks and you hear the faint trickling of a stream flowing nearby. Although this all sounds lovely, you’re not here solely to enjoy the natural beauty of the forest – you have a purpose. You’ve most likely been chosen to complete a secret quest that will define the fate of the world. Hardship and toil is coming, but at least you have a trusty companion at your side for the journey, and you will find other friends (and perhaps enemies, too) along the way. You hope the end is promising, but you don’t know how the adventure will unfold – and that’s part of the excitement. You come across an old, wooden shack deep in the forest… Who lives here? Are they good or evil? You are about to find out, but the chapter has ended on a cliffhanger. Do you read on?

Growing up, like most kids, I liked fantasy/adventure series – like Narnia, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings – and I read some of those books back then. But as I grew up, I became less interested in this genre and preferred to read more realistic stories. However, lately, I’ve been craving adventure and I’ve felt drawn to reading about these magical worlds again more than ever.

The pandemic has had me cooped up in my home for quite some time now. I don’t have my own car (not like there is anywhere I am allowed to go if I did), so the majority of the time when I want to get outside, I am restricted to a distance equal to as far as my legs can take me. As a result, I’ve been walking around my neighbourhood… a lot. Trust me, I’ve become so acquainted with the surrounding streets that I could walk them blindfolded. Although I appreciate all the moments I can spend outside, and being within walking distance to parks and green spaces is a privilege, I long for the excitement of travelling to new places, exploring natural areas, and having adventures. Since I can’t do that these days, I have started journeying to fictional places in my mind as much as I can through reading.

Source: Masterclass 

My fantasy novel reading kick started this year in 2021 because, after one year of the pandemic, I was feeling more antsy than ever. Like I said, I grew up liking adventure series, but they have a whole new effect on me these days. They provide a window into a new world, full of gripping adventures, in a time where we physically can’t do any of that in our own reality. 

More and more I’ve been feeling like Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit – comfortable in my house and neighbourhood but feeling like there is a part of me aching for something more, for adventure. And sadly, a wizard is not going to come to my house and send me off on a journey, so it’s up to me to push myself out the door (metaphorically) and enter the fictional worlds that exist on my bookshelf. 

I typically read contemporary fiction and literature because I like realistic stories that can offer me insights into my own life and the real world. I always viewed fantasy as more of an escape from reality – just something fun to read to forget about real life and be immersed in a new, magical world. But the more I read fantasy novels, the more I realize that these stories might actually be helping me cope with my own changing, unpredictable world rather than distracting me from it. Sure, they sometimes provide oversimplified, utopian-esque reflections of life, but I genuinely think this literary genre can provide tools and insights that can aid us in the environmental movement. 

Inspiration for Fighting Our Battles

The courage that these fictional characters display can inspire us in our own stories.

First of all, the characters in these novels overcome great feats – and also small feats, too. They fight in battles, learn skills from their mentors, travel on long journeys, face harsh climates, and do all sorts of other “adventure trope” things, generally to save their world from evil. But their feats are not entirely unlike the ones we face in our world. The courage that these fictional characters display can inspire us in our own stories. Besides the fact that our world does not have fire-breathing dragons, centaurs, elves, and other magical beings, our world is not so different from many of the fictional worlds we can read about. Sometimes it just takes a closer look to see the similarities.

Source: The Almighty Guru

I put a Lord of the Rings quote in one of my other articles to emphasize the courage that we, as environmentalists, will need on the long road to fighting for a better world, and I’m putting another one in this article. Maybe it’s LOTR overkill, but the story of Frodo and the ring has so many relevant quotes that can give inspiration to environmental and social justice activists, and particularly youth, who feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. It’s not easy to face these issues every day, but we continue to fight every day nonetheless. Looking to fantasy stories for inspiration and courage would likely benefit all of us who find ourselves feeling the ever-present weight and discouragement of the state of the world.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Connecting with the Natural World

A lot of fantasy novels take place in the outdoors and the characters often get intertwined with the elements of nature. The setting of these stories, often being in very natural places, provide a lot of natural imagery and a mystical quality to nature, which the characters experience in awe, curiosity, and wonder. The natural aesthetic of these worlds can evoke in us a greater appreciation for nature. Keep in mind – the nature in these books is not altogether fictional… it’s based on the nature of our own world, just in combination with a bit of imagination.

But many fantasy stories also include the force of nature and the environment almost as a character itself. In the book, The Name of the Wind, only the most skilled individuals in the story who study the wind know the name of it, which basically means they can call on it with their minds and control it. The point is, the wind – and also other elements, like iron or stone – are great forces that come alive and become vital pieces to the story, almost like characters. The human characters are very intertwined with their natural world – just as we are with ours.

Source: Alicia Ochoa via Art Station

Rediscovering the Magic of the World

Although reading about these magical worlds can still be a form of escapism for many, these stories can also help us rediscover the magic within the real world. I know what you might be thinking – there is no magic in our world. Well, there is definitely a magical essence of nature. Nature is full of life, energy, and beauty – and it’s so complex. Humans have probably only scratched the surface of understanding the planet and the nature around us, but being in nature is far more than understanding – it’s also feeling and experiencing, which goes beyond merely thinking about it. 

When I go into nature, I feel at peace and inspired. When I travel to a new place and experience a whole new ecosystem, I feel shocked and amazed. When I see fireflies, starry skies, colourful sunsets, beautiful birds, the list goes on and on, I feel a way that I imagine magic would make me feel – in awe. There is so much in nature to appreciate, feel, and draw energy from, and I think it’s worth rediscovering the magic in our own world to feel more connected to nature and more motivated to better protect it.

Overall, I have a much greater appreciation for this literary genre than I did before the pandemic. Now that I’ve given it more of a chance without making presumptions about it, like that it would be childish or too “far-fetched” or irrelevant to my own life, I’ve come to realize that many of these books are none of those things. They are simply a look into another world that we can experience, find delight in, and also learn and draw inspiration from. The magic of our world is all around you and maybe picking up a fantasy or adventure book will help you rediscover it.

Siobhan Mullally is studying in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability (SERS) at the University of Waterloo while also minoring in English. As both a budding ecologist and researcher, and aspiring writer, she is interested in exploring the intersections between environment and communication to inspire climate action. In her free time, she enjoys spending time in nature and getting lost in her favourite novels.