More time for Fantasy Please!

Went to a Red Box the other night and finally picked up the last Harry Potter film.  I was not sure what to expect since I had heard rumors that Harry was killed and that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was destroyed by Lord Voldemort.  During the film, my emotions went through a series of ups and downs as I identified with the characters and anxiously hoped or waited in vain for the events to unfold, as of course, I wanted them to. When the film was over, I started to think about my reactions to this fantasy film and indeed my reactions to fantasy in general.  Most of us live a good part of our lives identified with one or more fantasies and I am no exception. 
Today, I want to talk about this Fantasy Time that imbues our lives.  Fantasy Time is that time where we are choose to live (mostly vicariously but for some perhaps physically) in another world.  This is often a world where our normal laws of time and physics do not exist.  Some might call such worlds magic but usually magic is simply a component of these worlds.  In these worlds, there is always interplay between reality and fantasy or between reality and magic.  Throughout history, humans have created a significant number of fantasy worlds where they can escape to.  The internet is full of fantasy worlds where game players adopt alternate personas and live in alternate realities.  Some of the most significant worlds have been created by writers and have been described in the world’s great literature.  Indeed, perhaps the first fantasy world to ever have been created was the “Garden of Eden” and is described in the Bible. 
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve lived in peace with all of the animals and had no wants or needs. There was no pain or death and there was nothing but sunshine and happiness all day long.  There was no toil or labor and all of the needs of Adam and Eve were provided by God.  One might wonder what Adam and Eve did all day long but as with many of the great fantasy worlds of history, there is always an antagonist who is not content with the way things are.  In the Garden lurked a snake, also known as Satan, the Devil, The Fallen Angel and Beelzebub.   Satan wanted nothing more than to change the way the Garden worked and he found the opportunity in the form or perhaps metaphor of a Tree of Forbidden Fruits.  Satan convinced Eve to try one of these fruits and she in turn convinced Adam.  Their disobedience resulted in their being banished from the Garden of Eden and sent to the “real” world where pain and toil and death existed.  
There are many other famous fantasy worlds.  To name a few, there have been Never Never Land, The Land of Oz, the Shire, Camelot and of course Hogwarts.  In every one of these worlds, there have been the three common elements of all fantasy worlds.  The first is the peace and happiness and joy that exist.  The second is the freedom from the normal laws of physics.  The third and most problematic is the eventual appearance of the evil antagonist who wants to destroy the world and the peace that exists.  These evil antagonists have included such villains as:  Sauron, Mordred, the Wicked Witch, Captain Hook and of course Lord Voldemort.  Perhaps the only fantasy world on earth in which an evil villain has not existed has been Disneyland.  However, Disneyland is not a real fantasy world; it is only a fake fantasy world where you can pretend to be in a real fantasy world.  A “real” fantasy world has magic, fairies, elves, wizards, unicorns and dragons.  In a real fantasy world, you can fly or disappear or command the winds and rain to stop. 
When we contemplate our fantasy time, there are two questions which come to my mind.  First, why do we create these worlds?  What role do they play in our lives and how to they relate to our needs as human beings?  Second, and perhaps more importantly, why do we always have an evil villain who wants to destroy them?   Why can’t we just have our fantasy worlds and let them remain peaceful and happy?  Let’s take the first question in this blog today and tomorrow we will take the second question and also see what all of our villains seem to have in common.  Indeed there are many similarities between the Devil and Lord Voldemort!

John H. Timmerman writes the following about the effects of fantasy on our lives:

 “Fantasy literature as a genre has the capacity to move a reader powerfully. And the motions and emotions involved are not simply visceral as is the case with much modern literature — but spiritual. It affects one’s beliefs, one’s way of viewing life, one’s hopes and dreams and faith. Since I have had all these — beliefs, hopes, dreams, faith — affected by such literature, I feel compelled to ask somewhat uncomfortable questions about the experience.”

Timmerman goes on to explore the question of why we need such fantasy in our lives.  He asks the question that we are trying to answer today:  “What is the worth of this thing fantasy? What does it do? Why and how does it do what it does?”  His conclusion is as follows:

“There, in essence, lies the goal of fantasy: to lead the reader into a keener self-understanding. This is the central point of the genre. The artist of vision and fantasy expects us to learn something about ourselves by having made a sojourn through fantasy, to probe our spiritual nature, to grow in experience, to resolve our lives toward new directions. If fantasy begins in another world, it is in order to reach that mysterious other world of the human soul.” 

I have to say that I do not accept this interpretation of the power of fantasy in our lives.  I agree with Timmerman that the role of fantasy is more than simply escapism but I cannot accept this deeper almost subliminal interpretation for its power over us.  Indeed, we may grow in understanding by submitting to fantasy but I doubt that this is the attraction for most of us.  I have to come back to my own reasons (albeit little understood) for the enjoyment of fantasy.  

I have three key reasons I continue to be enthralled by fantasy:  

1.       The optimism and hope that such stories seem to offer for a better world.
2.      The excitement of a vision and mission that goes beyond my often humdrum goals.
3.      The identification with the often common hero/heroine who achieves extraordinary accomplishments.  

Let me use Camelot as one example.  During the 60’s, the term of office for John F. Kennedy was often referred to as a new Camelot.  Camelot was a special world where peace, justice, prosperity and equality existed for all.  It was ruled over by a benevolent King Arthur and Queen Guinevere who presided over a Round Table of faithful and loyal knights.  Perhaps, one must either be very naïve or at least suspend belief in reality but in the sixties, the Hippies, Yippies, Peaceniks and many Baby Boomers believed it was possible to create such a world and we believed that President Kennedy was our King Arthur and Jacqueline was our Queen.  As with Camelot, our vision did not last more than a generation and it soon foundered on the shoals of Vietnam.   

Those of us who believed in Camelot were moved by the hope and optimism for a better world.  The election of JFK offered this possibility. The vision of Camelot led a generation towards anti-war protests, women’s liberation, civil rights and political reform. Heroes arose from common people like Eugene McCarthy, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and the Chicago Seven (to mention only a few).  I remember being involved in protest marches and the New Democratic Coalition.  This was long before I began to develop a certain futility in politics.  At the time, I thought I was part of this new Camelot.  Little did I sense, the impending doom that threatened Camelot from within.  Have you ever noticed that most of the evil that threatens our fantasy worlds comes from within?  Perhaps that is because the evil is a potential in each of us.  This is the issue that I will explore tomorrow.   Where does the evil come from?

Have you ever thought about the role of fantasy in your life?  What are your favorite fantasy worlds?  What joy do you get out of these worlds?  What characters do you identify with?  Why?  Do you have too much or too little fantasy in your life?  Why?

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. bgalbreath
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 21:43:38

    Many years ago, I read an essay by Maurice Maeterlinck called “The Two Trees in the Garden”. He told the Genesis story in a way I had never heard, and yet, when I re-read Genesis, it was exactly as he had said it was. God forbade Adam and Eve from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He said that, if they ate from it, they would immediately die. Since they didn't know what death was, the threat was sort of an empty one, but not that, after they did eat, they did not immediately die, but lived for many more years. The serpent told Eve that, if they ate, they would become like God. Their eyes would be open to new knowledge. Specifically, they would know how to find and eat from the other tree, the Tree of Life, and become immortal, like God. After they ate, God expressed fear to some unnamed interlocutors that the humans might find their way to the Tree of Life, and quickly banished them from the Garden, and set an angel with a sword of fire to block the way to the Tree. In other words, what the serpent (the supposed father of lies) said, was true. Now, in a hierarchical world, maybe evil does consist in trying to rise above your appropriate station. It may be wrong to seek to become gods. History is filled with people achieving near-godlike power, and it reliably ends badly. But that, to me, is the essence of the allure of fantasy. We, sorely limited beings, imagine overcoming our limits and achieving heaven on earth. If we were “good” we would make peace with our limits and accept our place. But “a man's reach must exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?”



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