No Illusion: Fantasy Fiction is My Safe Space
This story was originally published in Mindsite News online publication May 15, 2023.
My love for reading began with a single book in the third grade.
It was a fantasy fiction read called Witch and Wizard by James Patterson, a 104-chapter book thicker than the total of every book I had read at the time, combined. I came across the book on a Friday afternoon after my third grade teacher marched the class to the library for our weekly reading session. The book was in a section labeled “high school reading level” and I was up for the challenge. The librarian was amused by my dedication and agreed to let me check the book out. I went through the pages so fast I was like an insatiable termite. One book was not enough. I needed more fantasy fiction books.
A 2018 SAGE Open journal study concluded that young people who read fantasy and science fiction, read more overall and develop a deeper appreciation and understanding of science. Of more than 900 people surveyed, 87% began reading fantasy fiction before they were 15. Fantasy fiction was the favored genre for 46% of those surveyed.
My parents did not know a lick of English when they immigrated to America from Cuba. They learned the language with me, and as they saw me become immersed in books, they felt proud of how fast I was learning this foreign language. Each month, bookshelves were stuffed with more and more literary works until my dad installed drawers under my bed to fill with more books. Those filled up quickly, too.
Fantasy fiction is an escape from reality, a reality that may not be as fun or welcoming as the worlds portrayed within covers of other books. For kids growing up in unstable environments, the wild stories of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson or Witch and Wizard are enough to make them feel normal.
My autism diagnosis came late in life, but I always knew I was different. I was made aware of how I did not fit into the cliques created in school, and how unique I was when being compared to my Hispanic roots. I did not like common child obsessions, and I loved my interests too much. I was not outgoing, extroverted or welcoming to reality. Stories were much better. I came home everyday tired of masking and tired of fending off bullies. I cracked open a book and entered a daydream that tasted like magic and felt like a warm bed I didn’t want to hop out of.
Harry Potter was mistreated in his foster home, forced to live under a staircase by the muggles around him. Yet the boy who lived, with a lightning bolt carved into his forehead, ended up saving the world. Percy Jackson, a misfit with ADHD and dyslexia, who could not catch a break in school, turns out to save the world—several times. And Whit and Wisty Allgood, who live in a society that persecutes witches and wizards, turn out to be the reason society can continue.
All these protagonists had one thing in common: they were outcasts. They were forced into a box they could not fit into, and were hated for leaking out of it. But the world became a much brighter place with all of them in it.
Fantasy fiction introduces the unexpected and makes it normal. Magic spells, evil villains, plot twists and monsters. Neurodivergency is expected and uniqueness is celebrated. By reading fantasy fiction, I got to see people like me overcome obstacles I thought impossible. If Percy could take down a minotaur, and if Harry could defeat He Who Shall Not Be Named, then I can handle a few bullies. In fact, I can do much more. I can win the Hunger Games, I can be assigned a patronus and I can certainly be a half-god.
My love for fantasy fiction sparked a love for all forms of media. It began a pipeline for a fascination in zombies and a dedication to Dungeons and Dragons. It also created an alternative for when I did not receive the help I was asking for.
It wasn’t until I was 13 that I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and major depression disorder, and I wasn’t medicated until I was 15. Books were my medicine, and a love for writing that began with Witch and Wizard allowed me to write stories where I was the protagonist. The hero, the one everyone loved. The chosen one meant to do anything he sets his mind to. As my beloved heroes grew with me, and the media changed, so did I and my diagnoses. Every shelf in my home that used to be empty is now stuffed to the brim with books of all genres. As I got older and my interests changed, so did the books I bought.
But you will always find a fantasy fiction novel in each drawer.
Hermes Falcon (he/they) is an intern with Youthcast Media Group and a sophomore at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois.