Dear readers, I am deep in the throes of NaNoWriMo, beset on all sides by plot twists and rebel characters and a pack of cosplaying sea spirits. As this newest story unfolds around me (well ahead of schedule, I am pleased to add), I’m struck once again by the power of words on a page to sculpt a world from nothing more than sugar, coffee, and cat hair.
For all of us who love to chase the adventures of elves and thieves and talking trees, here’s a quick list of five symptoms to warn you that you might be an absolute, unrepentant, reading-with-a-flashlight-after-bedtime fantasy fanatic.
You are puzzled by people who think books can fit into pockets
Uh, what’s all this about slipping a good beach read into the front of a tote bag? You’ve gotten warnings from the FAA for the size of your carry-on before, and you only tried to bring the first three installments of the Wheel of Time. You have entire bookshelves dedicated to one single series, and you laughed like a maniac about all those news articles exclaiming that City on Fire is 900 pages long. If it ain’t 900 pages, it ain’t even worth your time. And there better be three more volumes.
You have at some point insisted that you’re not one of those people
Come on, you can admit it. Fantasy types still have a bad reputation. I mean, you haven’t lived in your mother’s basement since that year after college when you couldn’t find a job, and you do actually wash your face. But despite your entirely normal appearance, people still give you weird looks when you sneak down the fantasy aisle in Barnes & Noble, and it still makes you feel like you’re a bit of a freak.
That’s okay. You’re not. Well, maybe you are, but that’s okay too. Fantasy enraptures readers of all shapes, sizes, nationalities, and creeds, and there’s no need to get defensive about it. Really.
If it doesn’t have three apostrophes in it, you’re not impressed
French class? Yeah, whatever. Try taking the SATII in Dothraki and then get back to me. Whether it’s Quenya or D’ni, you might know a little more than a phrase or two, thanks to those dictionaries you found on eBay. Sure, you might have to wait for the next Comicon to ask where the bathroom is in Dwarvish, but you can occupy your time by reading some Shakespeare in Klingon (even though that’s technically scifi).
You have alienated at least one close relative with your relentless attempts to get them to read something you love
I have a very clear memory of trying to get someone to understand just how deeply the death of an anime character had affected me – and that person’s indifferent response to my plight as I mourned the death of a completely fictional persona. I was desperate to find someone else who could understand the powerful emotion that the story had imparted to me, because it was bursting out of my adolescent heart in a way that I have never, ever been able to replicate without a good story.
Reading is a very personal experience, but the ability to share a story with someone close to you renders that world infinitely more meaningful. We might nag and pester and annoy our friends, but in the end, we just want to share the glory of what has become an intimate piece of our soul.
You own, or have owned, at least one cape
When I was a young teenager, my mom used to get this catalogue that had all sorts of neat things in it, targeted towards the sort of middle-aged ladies who call themselves “spiritual nature lovers” and eat a lot of carob. In addition to the incense sticks and Celtic pewter mugs and pretty glass trinkets that could probably double as bongs for the industrious or the creative, there was a black faux-medieval-style dress and a midnight blue velvet cape with silver
satin polyester lining that captured my desire in a way that still makes me smile.
As a 12-year-old with crippling body image insecurities and an acute sense of disconnection from the rest of my peers, I needed that dress. I needed it to make me feel like there was a world that would have me, even though I always felt so wrong. I saved up for months to buy it (and later the cape) and I wore it with pride to my middle school graduation. I had gotten a hideous sunburn the day before that turned my face bright cherry red, and I’m very, very certain now that I looked like a complete wacko. But I still felt beautiful, because wearing that silly dress connected me to a place where I wanted to belong.
For most of us who are now adults, we only dress up on Halloween or when we’re attending a special event. But every time we put on the cape and swish in front of the mirror when no one is looking, we allow ourselves to let go and be transported to a universe of limitless possibility and unrivaled joy. That’s what we celebrate with our massive books and secret phrases. So don’t be ashamed to be one of those people. Grab a cup of tea and your favorite adventure and lose yourself proudly to a realm where you can feel free.