Freedom from Familiarity
Why You Like Fantasy: Part 2
To ask questions about the nature, importance, and quality of art is one of the deepest pools I have ever looked into. For a time I had the privilege of joining a local group of artists, of which many were fine artist, to discuss the question of “What is good art?” Just remembering those days is like stepping up to the edge of that deep pool with the intent to dive.
But I don’t mention this because I wish to dive into it with this blog post. Rather, I mean to discuss the vital role of one of the arts, namely, Literary Fantasy. It is a genre that I grew up reading, grew fond of, and have put my “pen” to for the last 12 years. As part of this journey I have wondered why I like it, why other people like it, and sometimes, why people don’t. It’s the first question of liking it for which I’d like to propose another answer. My first answer was in Part #1 of this post. Here is my second answer: "We like fantasy because it frees ours minds to see our world more clearly.”
In 1939, when he was still in the early stages of creating Middle Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien gave a lecture called “Fairy Stories.” It was later adapted into essay form, entitled “On Fairy-stories,” and can now be found in one of his compilations, “Tales from the Perilous Realm.”
In his lecture-turned-essay, Tolkien tackled this very idea of the importance that Fantasy plays in freeing our minds to see life more clearly. In so many words, Tolkien spoke of how life becomes trite over time by nature of how we approach it, categorize it, and then write it off. Fantasy helps us to “clean our windows,” and “see things as we are meant to see them.”
This triteness is really the penalty of “appropriation”: the things that are trite, or (in a bad sense) familiar, are the things that we have appropriated, legally or mentally. We say we know them. They have become like the things which once attracted us by their glitter, or their colour, or their shape, and we laid hands on them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them … Creative fantasy, because it is mainly trying to do something else (make something new), may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds. (J.R.R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-stories")
There is something very similar in these two answers for why you and I like fantasy literature. That we need consistent recovery, a freeing of our minds to be able to see our world clearly, only serves to confirm that this world dulls us. What gets dulled is by nature meant to shine. This speaks of a higher nature, it points to a greater reality – that we were made for another world.
Perhaps this is all just musing, a complication of something silly to make it sound important. Or, perhaps it is a tiny glimpse into what is really true, and most important about us as human beings. I feel very confident that the grappling of the human heart and mind with “other things” is not merely a distraction from the all-important present. There is an immaterial spirit about us that links to another world, a larger reality. And a link is a connection, not a one-way pass to leave one thing for another. Both sides matter.
Well, that is enough philosophizing for now, I think. Back to letting “locked things fly away.”
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