I’ve long believed reading fantasy books moulded who I am. I have no real basis for this belief except a bunch of things I don’t think I learned from my parents or anyone else, in particular a marked black and white set of ethics. That’s not to say I don’t recognise ‘grey’ areas, but not many, and for me this reflects the good-evil dichotomy of classic fantasy. I love the anti-hero, or the dark hero, but when I started reading fantasy in my formative years, he wasn’t yet in vogue. 

I thought more about this when I recently started reading Raising Girls, since I know find myself in possession of two of them – girls, I mean. The book contains two markedly different stories about young girls faced with their first sexual experience. One is heart-breakingly casual and unfulfilling, and the other never happens. The second girl tells her boyfriend she’s not ready, and he delivers the ultimatum ‘Have sex with me, or I’ll walk’. With uplifting bravery, she tells him to walk, and doesn’t look back, not even when he wants to get back together with her sometime later. 

I firmly believe in ‘if he really cares, he’ll wait’. I don’t believe in sex on a first date – not if the woman is looking for more than casual sex. Once you start having sex, it’s difficult, or impossible, to go back to filling in the emotional gaps, that ‘getting to know each other’ stage that takes place on the first dates. My informal polling of men (in my generation) generally indicates a lack of, or less, respect for women who don’t make them wait. I’ve posed to men the phrase ‘OK to bed, but not to wed’, and it’s met with general agreement. 

This isn’t something my parents taught me, and while I’ve refined all the above thoughts as an adult, I must have had some awareness of the concept as a teenager, because I sure did make him wait.

Then I thought of Richard and Kahlan from Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, which I’ve been reading since I was thirteen. In the first book, Wizard’s First Rule, Richard falls in love with Kahlan. She discourages his affections, and his own grandfather tells him to ‘choose another girl’. He later finds out that any kind of physical relationship with her is impossible – if they were to have sex, her magic would destroy him. 

What does Richard do? He certainly doesn’t run off and pick up the first girl he comes across. Despite the fact he understands his love is impossible, that it can never be, he persists. In the end, he solves the problem. Even having solved it, though, it’s four books before he actually has sex with Kahlan, and despite constant setbacks, he waits. 

It occurred to me there’s a lot of important messages in there for any teenager who might sit still long enough to read it. Here’s a few that I spotted without even needing to think hard:

  • If it’s worth having, it’s worth waiting for;
  • If at first you fail, try again;
  • Fidelity and devotion as virtues;
  • Anything is possible;
  • Follow your dreams;
  • Sex isn’t everything (although I grant it isimportant, and I think that message is probably conveyed by the diligence with which Richard and Kahlan pursue that goal).

Are there other messages in there that you can see? What life lessons or important messages have you seen in the fantasy books you’ve read? Did you learn something from fantasy? Do you hope your children learn something from fantasy?

I do. I’ll be off now to borrow Dad’s illustrated copy of The Hobbit, and my first introduction to fantasy.