Saturday, 7 May 2016
Day 275 - Fantasy as Escapism
An old relative of mine, call her my Grandmother although the relation is not exact, used to read to us on occasion when we were children before going to sleep on Saturday night. One story she read to us was 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" by C.S.Lewis. I was so completely captivated by this book, that I would not allow myself to fall asleep. I recall being so excited to hear every chapter, making myself stay awake while she read, to the point where everyone else was asleep and she became too tired to read anymore. I could not get enough. It was as if something was pulling me right into the land of Narnia.
I eventually bought the book and read it myself when I was around 12 years old. It was not until I was in my late teens that I was in a bookstore and picked up a copy of J.R.R.Tolkiens 'The Lord of The Rings'. Quite fittingly, I was reading it while travelling across Canada to British Columbia (the region of the Canadian Rocky Mountains) to plant trees with a friend... so my own life adventure coincided nicely. Needless to say, that book completely swept me off my feet, (despite Bilbo's warning) and it was at that point that I found myself lost in, and in love with the fantastic realm of Middle Earth.
For those who have not read the books, they are widely accepted as the most profound mythical writings in the fantasy genre, to which all other books of significant merit are comparatively measured. Tolkien was a master craftsman, while being an English professor at Oxford, possessed all the tools necessary to create his world down to every fine detail. He added layer after layer of intricacy, genealogy, character depth, along with descriptive writings which were so compelling and enchanting, I would often find myself reading slowly... as if I myself was actually wandering through the magical woods of Lothlorien.
The LOTR books gave me a sense that there was something more to life than what was seen, something deeper, that existed below the surface... that somehow I already knew existed, yet it was out of reach to all but the fleeting glimpses in my mind. I would read passages in the evening, and the next day, I would recall what I read, and for a moment, I would be taken out of the misery of my mind, and transported to a place where it all made sense to me. I knew who was good, and who was bad, who I could and couldn't trust, and I knew what I would do... I felt more at peace and at home there in the story than I did in reality, and I truly wished I could trade my existence, here for there. I often asked myself 'Why isn't reality more like fantasy?'.. but sadly, I had no reasonable answer for myself.
This was my attempt at escapism, which Tolkien himself wrote about when referring to the nature of manifested reality vs faerie, saying something along the lines of (don't quote me exactly on this) 'It is only natural that we want and try to escape it (reality), and thus we are in a sense, meant to escape.' I understand why he said that, however I do not concur. I realize now that we have no choice but to face our creation in the physical reality.
After a lifetime of wandering the shores of Middle Earth, as the hero in my own story in my head, I must say that I feel as though those books helped me through some of lifes struggles. Knowing this, I felt sadness for many who could not read, and so not had the support of this perspective to assist them through the terrible realities of this world. This assisted me to realize how crippling illiteracy actually is.
In following posts, I will expand more on how fantasy can easily lure us into a point of self-definition, self-deception, and self-compromise, where escapism begets hiding, and one can end up abdicating one's life to a fairy tale that has little basis in reality.
Artwork by John Howe