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Using Fantasy Literature to Improve Mental Health

Reading is widely recognized as an effective means of keeping the mind active, but is there an advantage to reading in the fantasy genre specifically when it comes to promoting mental health?

“Fantasy is a natural human activity, which certainly does not destroy or even offend Reason; nor does it dull the appetite for scientific truth, of which it does not dull the perception. On the contrary: the sharper and clearer the reason, the better fantasies it will produce. -

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

Fantasy literature is a genre of literature that emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries. This genre features magical and supernatural phenomena, often taken from folklore or mythology, or created by the author. Fantasy authors create entire worlds and ensure that these worlds have narrative coherence, including linguistic, geographical, and historical consistency. These imaginary worlds are populated by magical creatures and fantastic adventures, and readers can immerse themselves in them, using their imagination to create further worlds and subplots. Reading fantasy books not only allows readers to escape into these worlds but also has positive effects on mental health. Let's explore the benefits of reading fantasy literature and how it can help us lead a better life.

Reading fantasy books can aid in reducing stress and anxiety. When we immerse ourselves in a book, particularly one that requires us to create detailed mental images of characters, situations, and settings, we detach from real-life problems and concerns, and experience a sense of being in the present moment. This detachment helps us relax and clear our minds of negative thoughts. Additionally, reading fantasy books can stimulate our imagination and creativity, leading to a sense of fulfillment and happiness. From a neurobiological perspective, reading also involves several areas of the brain, including those involved in language processing (Broca and Wernicke), as well as the visual cortex, the frontal cortex, the motor cortex, and the limbic system.

The brain does not differentiate much between vividly reading about an experience and actually experiencing it. In both cases, the same brain areas are activated. While this can be detrimental when dealing with intrusive thoughts, it can be beneficial when focusing on imagining a magical world where anything is possible. However, as with anything, spending too much time reading and neglecting other aspects of life can result in feelings of isolation and contribute to negative mental health outcomes such as depression and anxiety. Therefore, it is advisable to strike a balance and practice moderation.

Reading fantasy books can also enhance our cognitive abilities. Reading is an activity that requires attention, memory, and comprehension. When reading fictional books, we are challenged to follow intricate plots, recall names and details, and understand the motivations of characters. These tasks exercise our brain and make it more agile and resilient. Furthermore, reading fictional books can expand our vocabulary and improve our expressive abilities. Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's works, for example, understand the mnemonic effort required to remember all the names, nicknames, and middle names of the characters of Middle Earth, as well as the history, geography, languages, and races present in his works. The most dedicated Tolkien enthusiasts even delve into the study of Elvish languages, or explore interests in history, dead languages, or historical re-enactments.

Several studies suggest that reading fantasy books may reduce the risk of depression, which is a complex and multifaceted condition that can range from a low mood to major depressive disorder. Depression can affect one's mood, self-esteem, and undermine hope for the future. Reading fantasy books can help counteract these symptoms by offering an escape from reality and a source of inspiration. Fantasy books have the power to make us dream, excite, and entertain us. They can also make us feel less alone by introducing us to characters who share our passions and challenges. In Michael Ende's novel, The Neverending Story, the Infanta Empress tells the protagonist, Bastian, that the world of Fantasia is dying because it is being consumed by nothingness, the absence of dreams. Nihilism, born from the inability to fill one's existential void with hopes and dreams, can destroy minds and hearts, especially those of the youngest.

In conclusion, reading fantasy books can bring many benefits to our mental and emotional health, as well as our cognitive development. Through the power of immersive reading, we can escape from our problems and relax our minds, stimulate our creativity, and improve our memory and critical thinking skills. Furthermore, reading about different cultures and experiences can help us develop empathy and become more accepting of others. As with any activity, it's important to maintain a balance and not neglect other aspects of our lives, but incorporating regular reading into our routine can have a positive impact on our overall well-being.

A study conducted in Italy and published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, titled "The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice," provides evidence that young readers of the Harry Potter series exhibit less prejudice towards marginalized groups such as immigrants, homosexuals, and refugees compared to their peers who have not read the books.

“Differences in habits and language do not are nothing

if ours purposes are the same and the our hearts are open.”

Prof. Albus Dumbledore

To conclude, reading fantasy books can be a delightful hobby as well as an important aid for our mental well-being. By reading fantasy books, we can decrease stress and anxiety, enhance cognitive abilities, decrease the risk of depression, and cultivate empathy and critical thinking skills. So, why not pick up a fantasy book and let ourselves be carried away to a world of fantasy?

AUTHOR OF THE ARTICLE: Dr. Marco Matteoli, medical doctor and specialist in diagnostic imaging. Freelance journalist, graduated in 2020 in International Cooperation and Development at the University of Rome "Sapienza". Since 2009 volunteer doctor of the civilian component and of the military corps of the Italian Red Cross.


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  11. https://www.researchgate .net/publication/264162058_The_greatest_magic_of_Harry_Potter_Reducing_prejudice


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