Reading, Classics, and the Resurgence of Fantasy

Books on a shelf

We live in a time when young people have numerous choices for entertainment. What would you like to say to people who may be hesitant about reading a book for “fun?”

Books are the greatest device for transporting you into another person’s mind. Movies excel at depicting action with a bit of talk, theater excels at depicting talk with a bit of action, and radio is all talk. But books can take you deeper into people’s thoughts and feelings than any other media. Until we invent telepathy, books are our best choice for understanding the rest of humanity.

Is it important to read the classics?

I certainly encourage young people—and people of any age—to read the classics. Great authors help readers understand the inner workings that drive individuals and societies to action. When I was young, my mother read Dickens, Austen, and other greats to my sister and me. Their books had a profound impact on my development as a writer. And the classics can be exciting, too! I still remember the thrill I felt when I first read The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. Now there was high adventure!

Books about magic, sorcery and so on are a hit today: among others, we have Eragon, Harry Potter, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and of course the revival of Tolkien on account of the films. Would you have any thoughts on why this fantasy literature is on the rise?

Fantasy is perhaps the oldest form of storytelling, allowing readers to visit lands that never existed, to see impossible things, to experience heroic adventures, and then return safely to the real world. Mythic tales of terrible monsters, amazing feats of heroes and all-powerful gods and goddesses abound in folklore from around the world. Even the Homeric tales mention one-eyed giants and such. Told around campfires, whispered to children at bedtime, and chanted in castle halls, fantastic tales, perhaps based on some real events, have captured peoples’ imaginations throughout the ages.

Its current resurgence may be due to the fact that people are seeking to escape the grim realities of modern life and experience romance and adventure. I also credit the rise of special effects in movies with its popularity. Previously, it was almost impossible to depict the creatures, magic, and locations that writers have invented. Computers changed all of that. Film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling’s books have introduced millions of viewers to the wonders of fantasy.

In regard to my work, readers can explore the deeper issues of life through the character of Eragon: Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? How can we live honorably amid turmoil? And they can be entertained while empathizing with his situation.

Good fantasy sweeps me into a world of wonder and awe, stuns me with beautiful images and phrases, has thrilling action, gives me new insight into the minds and hearts of people, and leaves me with a sense of awe and wonder, a sense of magic that sends tingles up my spine. That is what I attempted to do with Eragon.

Christopher Paolini

About Christopher Paolini

Christopher Paolini is the author of the international bestsellers Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, and Inheritance, along with Eragon’s Guide to Alagaësia. He resides in Paradise Valley, Montana, USA.