Strange as it seems, when the cool and frosty weather returns, my thoughts turn to reading fantasy.
For as long as I can remember I’ve associated reading fantasy books with cold weather. Perhaps it’s something of the epic nature of fantasy that stirs this feeling in me. When you’re trapped indoors because of cold and inclement weather, what could be better than sinking your teeth, figuratively speaking, into a good, long fantasy book.
The first time I read Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is was dark and snowy for months on end. But the weather never bothered me in the least since I was busy following Frodo and Sam, Gandalf and Aragorn, and Legolas and Gimli through Middle-Earth in their quest to destroy The One Ring. I was completely oblivious to my surroundings and the grumblings about the weather.
Another reason my interest in fantasy seems to rise with the fall in temperature is that as a child, even though I might have had to tramp through snow and cold on my way to and from school each day, I was able to imagine myself as one of the heroes in these epic fantasies.
I would pretend to be Peter or, sometimes, Edmund, as they fought the White Witch. Other times I would be with Conan in the far north of Hyboria, or even Fafhrd bounding through the snow. For a young boy what could be more fun! In any case the cold never seemed to matter when I was fighting in these epic struggles. Who can be cold when there’s a dragon to slay or a jewel to steal?
I think my cold weather fascination with fantasy also may have to do with the earthy and visceral tone of fantasy stories. Characters in a fantasy setting have a lot to contend with. Cold, heat, rain, snow, drought, flood, storms, hunger, pain… all things we’ve probably experienced to one degree or another. Feelings that we can bring to stories when we read them.
When you’re reading science fiction weather rarely has an effect on the story. There are exceptions to be sure, but for the most part science fiction technologies make the more basic parts of life – food, water, shelter – less urgent than in a fantasy story. In science fiction you can synthesize food, create easily portable shelter, or control the weather. Science fiction can sometimes feel too artificial and too safe in regards to the more mundane aspects of life.
Fantasy, though, revels in the mundane portions of life. Often, it can become a pivotal turning point in a fantasy setting. When you’re living with cold weather, you can feel a similar sense of urgency at times, albeit in a less threatening way than you usually come across in the pages of a fantasy novel. Fortunately, for most of us, the cold is a discomfort we can abolish rather quickly these days.
I should also mention that I like to eat. I’m sure many of you like to eat as well. When the cold comes a hot meal is one of the greatest aspects of living with winter. Eating is also a big part of many fantasy stories. Whether characters hunt game, sit by the fire supping on haunches of meat, or tear into steaming loaves of bread, the act of eating in fantasy has been elevated to a high art. In fantasy, food is often described in such detail that other books have been written about the food we’ve read about. In the cold weather the heavy type of food described in these books is very comforting, both as a reader and an eater.
Being trapped indoors on cold days has never been a problem for me. Fantasy novels, especially large detailed ones, make the time pass in one of the most satisfying manners I can imagine. And fantasy is imagination in some of its purest sense. I look forward to the cold and the thought of being trapped in some of the greatest settings ever created. Frost and fantasy are great partners.