One of my favourite things to do is to read the negative reviews of books I hate on Goodreads and Amazon. This is as much for pleasure as for genuine market research — especially for books that are notorious such as the Twilight franchise. One of the most common criticisms I’ve seen of such books is that they are merely wish fulfilment literature, where the desires and fantasies of the authors are enacted and satisfied through the stories they write. Often wish fulfilment literature is dismissed as lazy. I think that is a valid criticism in many cases but we should not automatically deny works of merit their deserved praise even if they have characteristics of wish fulfilment literature.
Some “literature” deserves the criticism. The Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey franchises come to mind instantly. Though that doesn’t mean those types of books don’t have their place. I consider the success of the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise to owe a great deal to the failure of both Harlequin and explicit erotica publishers to anticipate upcoming trends and market their books properly. Unsurprisingly both Harlequin and erotica publishers have changed their marketing strategies in the wake of Fifty Shades of Grey’s success.
The reason we must not dismiss wish fulfilment literature entirely is that books such as the Harry Potter franchise, or even the Chronicles of Narnia, are just as much wish fulfilment literature as Twilight. The Harry Potter franchise may not be wish fulfilment on the part of the author, I’ve no doubt JK Rowling does not want to be an eleven-year-old boy, but it is undoubtedly wish fulfilment on the part of the readers. What child wouldn’t want to wake up one day and be told that there’s something about them that makes them different from other children and that they’re going to a magical school? What ordinary children wouldn’t want to find a magical kingdom in the back of a wardrobe?
What makes Harry Potter different from Twilight, however, is the awesomeness of the wish. Going to a wizarding school and conquering evil is a much more interesting wish than getting a good-looking paranormal boyfriend who’s infatuated with you even though you’re a thoroughly average looking person. Especially as Stephenie Meyer’s interpretation of what vampires are has nullified many of the undesirable vampiric traits found in works such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And as for Fifty Shades? There are actual billionaires alive today more interesting than Christian Grey. Fantasy that pales in comparison to reality, is not good fantasy.
Since a great deal of good Fantasy and Sci-Fi does contain desirable wish fulfilment elements it would be unwise of authors to not be aware of how it can be used successfully. Wish fulfilment is a feature that can make literature incredibly satisfying. The cases where the quality of literature declines are the cases where wish fulfillment is the only feature of that respective work. This is where the accusations of lazy writing ring true. It’s also a wasted opportunity. The great thing about literature is that you can have mundane everyday wishes, like getting a rich, handsome boyfriend, fulfilled and go on a swashbuckling adventure as well. Indeed, in extraordinary settings, the presence of mundane wishes and desires can add realism to otherwise improbable characters.
I know what I prefer to read and write.