Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fantasy (as in Literature)

As it was not my intention to only write about my children, and because Aaron recently said something like, “Quit writing about the kids. I‘m sick of it. Write about something else,” I am going to divert the subject to something else entirely this time.

I have recently begun to read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. I have, of course, seen the old Disney cartoon, but I’ve never read the book before. In the particular copy that I am reading there is an introduction by some guy named Martin Gardner, who is apparently a science writer who wrote a column called “Mathematical Games”, which seems odd except apparently Lewis Carroll was a mathematical lecturer at a college in Oxford. So I guess that’s the connection.

A lot of times I don’t even read the introduction, but occasionally I get in the mood to read the entire book from cover to cover, even the introduction and whatever else might be there. This was one of those times, and I’m glad because he had a lot to say in defense of fantasy, which is one of my favorite genres.

He mentioned first that “Many adults dislike fantasy, preferring fiction about the real world.” And then he went on to point out that in spite of this, many literary classics are, in fact, works of fantasy. Such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Goethe’s Faust, Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, to name a few. He mentions that “scores of fantasy novels have outlasted myriads of once admired works of realism.” Among children’s stories, the majority of classics are fantasies. A few more well known are Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, The Chronicles of Narnia, and of course, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Not to mention that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are some of the most popular right now.

Gardner also quoted G.K. Chesterton, who said “that fairy tales in their essence are quite solid and straightforward; but that everlasting fiction about modern life is in it’s nature essentially incredible. Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine, but that the soul is sick and screaming. The problem of the fairy tale is—what will a healthy man do with a fantastic world? The problem of the modern novel is—what will a madman do with a dull world? In the fairy tale the cosmos goes mad; but the hero does not go mad. In the modern novels the hero is mad before the book begins, and suffers from the harsh steadiness and cruel sanity of the cosmos.”

When I think of a madman in a dull world, I think of the narrator in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. There you have a very ordinary world, a very ordinary situation. Except. The man has some sort of disease which has caused him to go mad and fixate on the eye of the old man he takes care of, driving him to murder him and hide the body, only to give himself away when he imagines he can hear the old man’s heart beating under the floor boards and giving him away. That’s just scary.

When I think of a “healthy man in a fantastic world”, I think of the Pevensie children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. They are thrust into a frightening situation, where myths and fairy tales are real, and animals can talk, and the world has been stuck in winter for 100 years or something. Yet, they overcome obstacles, become heroes, fulfill their destinies, and also manage to remain in their right minds. That’s encouraging. And hopeful, too, I think, to believe that there is a purpose.

For me personally, fantasy reminds me that there is more than what I can see. It points me toward the spiritual realm, reminds me that we aren’t just living on a planet spinning through the universe with no rhyme or reason. There is a God, and He has orchestrated everything down to the finest detail. Even when something doesn’t make sense to us, it’s part of His Grand Scheme.

Or, as Mel Gibson’s character in the movie Signs asks, “Is it possible, there are no coincidences?”

I think so.


  1. I love that GK Chesterton quote. Nice. You know, Tammy, I think I'm going to really enjoy reading your stuff on a regular basis. I think we could be friends.

  2. I like. :) "For me personally, fantasy reminds me that there is more than what I can see...Even when something doesn’t make sense to us, it’s part of His Grand Scheme." Yep, that's good. :)