Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

8.07.2014

The Reality of Fantasy


I just enjoyed an article sharing the thoughts of author and book critic Lev Grossman about fantasy books, and I find his thoughts have much in common with mine.  Particularly, this:
I bristle whenever fantasy is characterized as escapism. It’s not a very accurate way to describe it; in fact, I think fantasy is a powerful tool for coming to an understanding of oneself. The magic trick here, the sleight of hand, is that when you pass through the portal, you re-encounter in the fantasy world the problems you thought you left behind in the real world. Edmund doesn’t solve any of his grievances or personality disorders by going through the wardrobe. If anything, they're exacerbated and brought to a crisis by his experiences in Narnia. When you go to Narnia, your worries come with you. Narnia just becomes the place where you work them out and try to resolve them.

The whole modernist-realist tradition is about the self observing the world around you—sensing how other it is, how alien it is, how different it is to what’s going on inside you. In fantasy, that gets turned inside out. The landscape you inhabit is a mirror of what’s inside you. The stuff inside can get out, and walk around, and take the form of places and people and things and magic. And once it’s outside, then you can get at it. You can wrestle it, make friends with it, kill it, seduce it. Fantasy takes all those things from deep inside and puts them where you can see them, and then deal with them.

The thing about the Narnia books, is that they’re about Christianity. I grew up in a household that not only lacked Christianity—there was very little Christianity in our house, even though my mom was raised Anglican—there was almost no religion of any kind. Religion was, and to some extent has remained to me, a totally baffling concept. I wasn’t experiencing the book in any way as stores about religion: I experienced them as psychological dramas. This sleight of hand in which an apparent escape becomes a way of encountering yourself, and encountering your problems, seems to me the basic logic of reading and of the novel.

In this way, the portal in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe becomes a magnificent metaphor for reading itself. When she opens the doors to the wardrobe, it’s like Lucy’s opening the covers of a book and passing through it to somewhere else—which is just the same experience you’re having at the moment you’re reading the passage. You’re watching Lucy do the same thing you are, just in a way that’s dramatized and transfigured.
When I say my thoughts are similar, I mean similar to the extent that I've previously written on this blog: That's what I'm really looking for in a good fantasy, not just escape, but something that will help me examine my own life and come out a better person because of it.

It was in a post in which I compared the mythologies of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, sharing that though I enjoy both I'm more inspired by the everyday heroism of the everyday hobbits than that of the destined-to-be-great-due-to-lineage-and-mystical-powers Luke Skywalker.  Frodo and Sam are more like me than he is, and so they allow me to learn more about myself in comparison.

The specifics of those two trilogies aside, that's what I've always gotten out of reading fantasy.  Escape and a sense of magic, but as a means to encounter myself in new ways.

The article is titled "Confronting Reality By Reading Fantasy" by Joe Fassler writing in The Atlantic, though the bulk of the article is Grossman's words from an interview.  In it, he talks of his love for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis as the book that introduced him to the magic of fantasy.  Though I was older, I had the same experience.  Our teacher read it to us in middle school, and that's the moment I went from a casual reader to an avid one--although for the next 5-6 years I refused to read anything that wasn't fantasy, that first encounter with the magical stories was so powerful for me.  Though I don't hold the book in reverence quite the way that Grossman does, which he describes--and explains--in the article.

Grossman's love of Lewis's creation really comes through in his current books--in the first, at least, though I'm confident it does in the second and third (which just came out) that I have yet to read.  In my review of The Magicians I wrote: The review that initially hooked my interest in this book called it a Harry Potter for adults, and I’ve since seen many others use the same description for it. . . . if he borrowed the magical boarding school concept from Harry Potter, Grossman has created an entirely new Narnia and I see a much stronger comparison to Lewis's books than Rowlings's.  His love of the Narnia series is evident in the book.

More to the overall point of fantasy leading to confrontation with reality, I also wrote:
These are not unjaded children able to embrace the wonder of magic and adventure because they have not yet been beaten into submission by life, these are adults who find no pleasure in existence because they never experienced the magic promised by their childhood dreams yet who cling desperately to them, refusing to fully mature and face reality in a most un-Peter Pan-like way. Quentin realizes before long that learning magic is more grueling, rote, and, at times, humdrum than the most intense Ivy League studies and doesn't really hold any more promise of adventure than life without magic. So he gets everything he's always wanted, but he still has to figure out how to find meaning in life for himself not automatically granted by things like advanced learning, adventure, power, relationships, magic, sex, drugs, and Fillory. 
Grossman's book creates a new Narnia that helps his protagonist do exactly what he feels reading fantasy should do: grow.

I'm rather fond of my review, so if you're intrigued and want to know more about the book give it a look.  Though don't forget to read the entire Grossman article, as there's much more to it than what I've pulled out.  Then I need to see if I can't get back to Grossman's book to give it another twirl, then finish the trilogy.

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