Watch: Terry Pratchett, A S Byatt and Terry Eagleton on fantasy, fiction and desire

What can fantasy tell us about the ways in which we perceive reality? Terry Pratchett, A S Byatt and Terry Eagleton discuss fantasy as a vast and powerful mode of thought.

Fantasy is often seen as existing outside higher culture, with little to contribute to our lives. It is considered by many as little more than throwaway entertainment, but is this an error? Might our creation of fantasies be central to how we perceive the world, and even gesture towards the limits of our understanding?

Booker Prize-winning author A S Byatt has drawn heavily on fantasy, sci-fi and myth in her fiction and essays, writing that "fantasy is something we can’t do without. It is an essential aspect of reality."

Sharing Byatt’s view of fantasy as "a way of thinking about things", Terry Pratchett believes "fantasy makes a new world from which we can see this one" while acknowledging that "it can be dangerous". Pratchett has sold over 85 million fantasy novels around the world, and is loved by adults and children alike.

Terry Eagleton is not only a Pratchett fan but also this country’s foremost literary theorist and critic. A Marxist thinker, he is opposed to the notion that the left has always favoured realist fiction, highlighting the prominence of fantasy and utopianism at historical moments when societies have most needed to imagine new ways of operating.

But are their fantasies the same? Can they agree on what the essential point of fantasy is, or where the distinction lies between fantasy and fiction – and reality?

In this debate above chaired by journalist and broadcaster Mary Ann Sieghart, held at this year’s How The Light Gets In festival at Hay, these three brilliant thinkers ask why it is we crave fantastical worlds. They ponder what makes good fantasy writing. Does it provide writers and readers with incomparable freedom, they ask, or does liberty from the logic of the "real world" simply mean new rules must be invented and followed?

Byatt compares the "truth" of fiction with historical and scientific truths, while Pratchett examines the transformation of science fiction into science fact, and the pattern of news stories informing fantasy writing. Eagleton explores the Freudian necessity of fantasy and fiction in our perception of the world, claiming that they are economically woven into our society.

Patrick Driver

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
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New Harry Potter and the Cursed Child pictures: an analysis

What do the new cast photos tell us about what we can expect from the Harry Potter play?

With the first public performance only a week away, the team behind Harry Potter and the Cursed Child have released the first in costume cast photos of three of its stars: Harry, Ginny and their son, Albus.

But what do the new pictures tell us about what we can expect from the play? Here’s your annotated guide.

Harry

Harry is suited up like the civil servant we know he has become. When we left him at the end of book seven, he was working for the Ministry of Magic: JK Rowling has since revealed he became the youngest head of the Auror Office at 26, and the play description calls Harry “an overworked employee of the Ministry”. Jamie Parker’s costume suggests a blend of the traditional establishment with Harry’s rebelliousness and familiarity with danger.

Parker told Pottermore of the costume, “He’s wearing a suit because he’s a Ministry man, but he’s not just a bloke in a suit, that’s way too anonymous.”

Ginny

Ginny looks like a mix of the cool girl we know and love, blended with her mother, and a little something else. She has a perfect journalist’s bob (Ginny became a Quidditch reporter after a career as a professional player), paired with a “gorgeous, hand-knitted jumper” reminiscent of the Weasley’s Christmas sweaters. In silhouette, she might look like her mum with an edgier haircut, but with (literally) cooler colours and fabrics.

Actress Poppy Miller said the costume matches Ginny’s personality: “Kind and cool, exactly as I imagined her.”

Albus

Albus’s costume is perhaps more interesting for what it hides than what it reveals – we are given no suggestion of what house he might be sorted into at Hogwarts. This is particularly interesting knowing Albus’s nerves about being sorted: the final book ended with him asking his father, “What if I’m in Slytherin?”. Rowling writes, “The whisper was for his father alone, and Harry knew that only the moment of departure could have forced Albus to reveal how great and sincere that fear was.”

Actor Sam Clemmett said, “This is what Albus wears at the start of the show. I had the idea he was wearing James’s – his older brother’s – hand-me-downs. So I wanted him to feel quite uncomfortable, and be able to play with his clothes.”

His oversized second-hand clothes also emphasise how important the role of family inheritance will be in the play. The only reminder of Albus’s older siblings, they call to mind both his Weasley heritage (Ginny and her siblings were teased for their hand-me-down robes) and the enormous legacy of his father. The play description notes, “While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted.”

Family portrait

Again, this group picture is interesting for absences – there are no Potter siblings here, further suggesting that Albus will be the main focus of this new story. It also continues to place an emphasis on family through the generations – if Albus donned a pair of specs, this could easily be a picture of James, Lily and Harry. Even the posture is reminiscent of the Mirror of Erised shot from the first movie.

An intriguing hint at what next week’s play might hold for audiences.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.