Friday, September 5, 2014

An Exploration in Fantasy -- Part Six: The Draw

I suppose the real question is, "Why does all of this matter?" Of course, that's the real question for so many things, but let's just look at it in relation to fantasy for the moment. Why does it matter? Why should we care about fantasy or where it comes from?

And that could go in all kinds of directions and get all kinds of philosophical, but I want to look at it in relation to the fantasy model itself. You can find the list here.

So... Let's start with kids.

At some point in all but the rarest of childhoods, we all wish we would find out that we were orphans. Our parents suck, and we want to find out that our real parents died when we were babies and these... things... that are raising us are doing it out of some obligation. Basically, we all wish we were Harry Potter. Or Harriet Potter. Or some variation of that. For me, it was Luke Skywalker. For hundreds of years, it was Arthur. Actually, when I was a kid, sometimes, it was still Arthur.

The point is that kids, pretty much all kids, especially when things happen that they don't like, will wish for something that makes them... special. Something that sets them apart. We want some old guy to come along and tell us we're secretly a wizard or a warrior princess to tell us we're the heir to a mighty kingdom that we have to save. Or, you know, we want to get bitten by a magic squirrel and get mutant powers. Or something like that.

The thing is, an awful lot of childhood feels like a descent. Like being trapped in darkness. Some more than others. And we... Well, we don't feel like we know how to get out of it. Often, it's our parents who are the "dark lords." Or some teacher or other. Or the bully that takes our lunch money every day. And fantasy... It helps us get through.

It does, you know. Help us to get through. Many studies have shown that the associations that we form with characters that we admire help us to make our own ways through difficult situations.
-- If Harry could stay true to himself despite what Umbridge did to him, then I can, too.
-- Even though his father tried to kill him, Luke came out of it even stronger. I can, too.
-- Peter Parker didn't let failure defeat him. He learned from it. So can I.
So, yeah, I think it's important to know where fantasy came from. It's the stuff that childhood is made of.

Some of us carry that with us all of our lives, though others outgrow it. Some never discover it.
-- I just want to point out, here, sort of as an aside, some other studies show that reading is one of the main places that we develop empathy. So, although some parents have an attitude of fantasy as being "all that nonsense," it's important to discover the realms of fantasy as a child. It's how learn that even though Edmund betrayed us that we can still forgive him and take him back. --
Tolkien knew the importance of fantasy, even for adults. It's why he created his mythology of Middle Earth. From that standpoint, we owe a lot to Tolkien for making fantasy something more than just fairy tales. Even though he didn't create the fantasy model that authors now use, he really is the Father of Modern Fantasy!


  1. Henry David Thoreau said, "The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation." I think that about sums up what you are saying here.

  2. Sandra: Thanks.

    Michael: Yeah, I think it does.

  3. There's a song called "A Long Long Time" by Guy Forsyth that sums up how I feel about Star Wars, Lord Of The Rings, comic books, and the rest of the fantasy/scifi I devoured as a kid. It goes:

    "I discovered religion watching Luke Skywalker rescue Princess Leia and destroying the Death Star by letting go and closing his eyes.

    And I devoured comic books, three-colored mythologies taught me right and wrong and if you believe, you can fly."

    I think the importance of fantasy and the like isn't just creating empathy or finding ourselves, it's fitting ourselves into a world and learning how to believe that life can be great. For many people, life isn't GREAT. It might be good -- I had a pretty happy childhood-- but not great, and it seems like it gets harder for many people as they grow older. When you start going to school, start getting turned down for dates by girls, have to get a job, watch your parents get older... every day that you grow up can seem like a step away from the magical worlds where anything is possible.

    But if you read fantasy and scifi, you can believe that maybe one day you won't have to fix that water vaporator any more but instead could end up with a princess on your arm, swinging across the gap while stormtroopers shoot at you.

    The goal for us is to find that in our own lives.

  4. Briane: It's all about learning to keep the magic.

  5. I read part 5, btw. I went to look something up about pre-Arthurian legends and went down an Internet rabbit hole and forgot to come back. So, oops.

    I loved this installment of the series though. Fantasy was a means of escape for me as a child. I did learn my moral outlook from superman and spider-man. I wish I could have picked up a few of their powers to go along with the morals. But whatever.

  6. "With great power comes great responsibility."

    Did you find anything pre-Arthurian?