I read a blog post the other day suggesting that Back In The Day, people mainly read fantasy to get a certain feeling that wasn’t super common. I.e., you had to go looking to be able to find wizards, dragons, cloaks, chainmail and whatnot–whereas you can get a lot more of them in mainstream pop culture nowadays. I have to agree. This explains why, for example, I picked up a fantasy book from the late 80s a while back and realized it had footnotes about everything from how the days of the week were named to the system that its land used to determine water barrel prices. (You’d think this would mean that water barrel prices would be important to the plot, wouldn’t you? You would be wrong.)
I think an immersive setting is important, though–as long as it’s not intrusive.
One of the things I enjoy the most about reading is the ability to leave where I am, and go to another place–be that Botswana, or 1930s Yorkshire, or Regency England, or Pern, or Earthsea. Some places I go to when I am wanting to be somewhere comforting and reassuring (Botswana and Yorkshire). Some places I go because I need to think about what it would be like to live there (the Republic of Gilead). And some places I go just because I like the people there. I write because I like the characters, and they show me around the setting. I think setting, plot, and character all need to be in balance, but I will forgive a lot for a good setting.
Of course, I’ll forgive everything for the sake of a good character, but that is another blog.
What do you think? Do you experience setting as a form of immersive escapism, as unimportant backdrop, or something in between?