Monday, October 15, 2007

What Football and Fantasy Have in Common

Just a warning to any football fans out there who might be reading: I will be expressing negative views about your sport. They may not be fair. They may not be politically correct. You may completely disagree. But they are my views and this is my blog. So, deal.

I hate football. (And I mean American football here). I don't like the idea of getting worked up about a game on television instead of actually participating in something. I don't like the lowest-common-denominator nature of football. I don't like the fact that football players get paid millions of dollars to prance around and tackle each other when people who actually do important things for a living get paid peanuts. I don't like how the passion of its fans is inversely proportional to the larger human significance of the game itself.

My boyfriend is a football fan.

This past weekend, he had some friends over to watch a football game. I spent the day curled up in the bedroom, re-reading my battered old copy of Lord of the Rings. Somewhere between the Mines of Moria and Shelob's lair, however, I realized something: what we were doing wasn't all that different. Here, to my great mortification and embarrassed wonder, are a few things my beloved fantasy novels have in common with (ugh) popular sports.

Heroes. C'mon, admit it: you cheered when Eowyn defeated the Witch King. When Sparhawk delivered his last one-liner to Martel before running him through. When Lyra pulled the wool over the eyes of Iofur Raknisson. Whatever your favorite fantasy series is, chances are you loved it because you fell in love with its heroes and you loved watching them succeed against impossible odds.

It's the same with sports. Just as my heart soared in rapture when Roland burst into Eddie's world, guns blazing, to save him from the mobsters--and ultimately himself--in The Drawing of the Three, my boyfriend is uplifted by every success of his favorite sports heroes. If I could, I would give a few examples. But I really can't think of any.

A close-knit group of friends. The absolute best thing about fantasy novels is the close-knit group of motley companions--an unlikely and sometimes unwilling gathering at first, but they come to depend absolutely on one another. In the best fantasy novels, every character has his or her own distinct strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits. They're all interesting on their own. But as a group, each character serves an important role. They fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces.

It's the same for a well-cast sports team. You have your guys who throw the balls. You have your guys who catch the balls. You have your really big guys who jump on the other guys to keep them from attacking the other two types of guys. know what I mean. The team is larger than its individual characters, and each person plays a crucial role.

A common enemy. The world of most fantasy novels is reassuringly simple. You know exactly who the bad guys are. Most of the time you can tell on sight--the bad guys look different from the good guys, either because they're a different race or they're a whole different species. In a complicated world where nobody's totally good or totally evil, it can be comforting to know exactly who's on your side and who isn't.

It's the same with sports teams. You know exactly who the bad guys are. Your team is in one uniform; their team is in another. There's no moral ambiguity here--you always know who to cheer for.

A clear and obvious goal. Find the magic stone, defeat the evil enemy, escape the dark castle--in fantasy novels the goals aren't always easy--but the path is always clear. It's the same with sports. Your objective is clear, there's no moral waffling, and everybody is on the same page.

Pure escapism. The attraction of fantasy is pure escape. The richly imagined, all-encompassing worlds; the clear objectives; the characters that make you fall in love, laugh and cry, and miss them when the book is through--all combine to completely take you out of the ordinary problems of your own world and into a place that's full of wonder and absent from the bewildering gray areas of real life. It's the same with sports. You'll find all the hero worship, clear goals and objectives, and strong cast of characters there. You may love fantasy and hate football, like I do--but they serve the same purpose. Maybe I'm a closet football fan after all.

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