“The real world is much smaller than the world of imagination”
Ecce Homo – Friedrich Nietzsche
Fantasy today is becoming more and more popular, fighting the resistance it had had decades ago. Today we have thousands of movies and millions of books coming out. This poses the question though: Why even read Fantasy as a genre? Specially today, when the “serious” people have embraced the banner of the pragmatic and scientific being, we still adhere so much to an apparently “useless” form of literature and entertainment, even though it is more and more popular. Well, to this question I will have to return to one of the first theorists that sat down to reflect on the issue in the 20th century, that is, J.R.R. Tolkien.
But before I start with the quotations, I’d like first to invite you to rethink the word “use”, since today it is linked strongly with the idea of a personal profit and (almost) a professional growth. Today many business minded people just can’t see the allure towards this form of escapist literature, since it does not provide an immediate (monetary) benefit. The “use” of something is thus what evaluates if something is even worth pursuing and/or keeping, which has sadly devolved to a situation in which the distraction has become less engaging and more generic. Even today, when our society has defended a more bleak worldview of “correctness”, imagination and fantasy have flourished against the forces that ask us to reason. But the old professor of Oxford once said, in his famous essay On Fairy-Stories:
“Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy it will make.”
Tolkien defines Fantasy as a normal human feature that has to be nourished to make a perceptive person. This is based on the ground of the three features that the genre has in itself: Recovery, Escape and Consolation. To make the explanation short, each element that should be in a good faerie-story must permit the reader (gamer or watcher) to observe reality with other eyes while resting from the real world and finding pleasure and joy in an ending that satisfies.
Thus escaping into a fantasy realm is in itself not a bad thing, but good and helpful, since it will change our point of view and let us rest of this reality that, at times, seems chaotic and senseless. It is true we can not really leave the real world, but changing your perception on a problem after a moment of rest always will help put things into perspective.
The “use” of Fantasy lies not within the profit we make but the inner healing and the change of perspective. Also, since it is being part of our nature, we always feel drawn to it no matter how some try to drown that feeling of attraction towards the mysterious. Since the beginning we have reveled in our imagination, giving explanations to our surroundings through myth.
Today most of it is reflected through our fascination not only of the fantastic, but also of the beyond and even the horror. Thus, we do not only indulge a whim, but a necessity that drives us to see the magical in our world. In some form or another, no matter how scientific minded we are, we always find interest in the possibilities the world could offer, no matter how exaggerated we may think it is.
The ‘need’ to take this timeout is rarely overcome, and even those who claim they have, enjoy a movie or two around these topics. Claiming we don’t have a use is just a way to express disinterest in a particular theme, which doesn’t mean the person does not need his share of escapism. Fantasy just does it in its own way.
As people today can be Football fans or Hemingway enthusiasts, those who follow the genre of the faerie are passionate about something that permits us lay back for a moment and observe things with other eyes. The downside of our taste, though, is that it has gone trough a depreciation since, at least, the 19th century. Even Tolkien had to refute the fact that the art of creating a good faerie story was, in his time, considered to be exclusively for children, since their stories seemed vain and simplistic.
But specially today, with the growth of the genre and the different media it touches, I think it is something we can’t ignore anymore. It has become more serious and more “grown up”. If not, then why would a series of books, turned into a TV show, become so popular and be able to contain mature topics such as war, poverty, famine, prostitution and other topics?
“Fiction is fiction.”, the introduction to a Quenya dictionary would state, ” But it is driven up to a limit where it takes the opaque, resisting form of a reality.”
One thing is for sure: today’s Fantasy is different from the one in Tolkien’s time, but we owe it not only to his work, but to his adamant defence that we shall enjoy the stories for what they are. The genre is a broad world that makes us imagine and re-imagine. I definitely think that reading, playing and enjoying it is important to us, if only to find solace and boosting our wills and perspectives. It does not need a “use”, it is just natural and it is part of us.
Nai Ainur rautuvar tiëtyanna!
For further reading:
Tolkien, J.R.R., “On Fairy-Stories”, http://brainstorm-services.com/wcu-2004/fairystories-tolkien.pdf
Elbisches Wörterbuch nach J.R.R. Tolkien, 4th Edition, Stuttgard, Germany, Klett-Cotta