Fellow Spec Faith blogger E. Stephen Burnett left an excellent comment to last week’s post answering the criticism that fantasy leads to delusion. Coincidentally he addressed the subject of escapism. I’m tempted either to copy and paste his remarks here or to simply tell you to click on the link and read what he said, or reread it, as the case may be.
I’ll resist, however, because I think this particular attack necessitates repeated repudiation.
The argument is that fantasy pulls readers away from more weighty concerns. While we should be focused on putting food on the table, we’re wondering and worrying about slaying dragons.
To counter this point, Andrew Lansdown, author of the booklet “In Defence of Fantasy,” the source for these posts, makes the same Tolkien argument that Stephen made. The real issue is that the accuser of fantasy is mistakenly confusing “the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.” Both escape, one rightly so, the other by selfishly shirking his duties or commitments.
So does fantasy provide a reader with escape from prison or from the battlefield? I think that’s the question each writer needs to answer about his own work. Lansdown suggests that even if a fantasy provides nothing but a little rest and relaxation, that’s OK as long as it is kept in balance.
He goes on to make the case Tolkien did for creativity being a worthy endeavor, and fantasy being the most creative of the creative.
For surely it is true that God intends human beings to be creative! How could it be otherwise, since he has made us in his own likeness? We are his image-bearers. This means that because he is Rational, we are rational; because he is Moral, we are moral; and because he is Creative, we are creative! God’s image in us explains why human beings, and human beings alone among all earth’s creatures, compose music, paint paintings, sculpt sculptures, direct plays, choreograph dances, arrange flowers, weave baskets and write stories … This is inevitably so, because the Great Creator made us in his own likeness.
Tolkien used the term “sub-creator” to clarify the storyteller’s role—a term he used especially for those who make a “Secondary World” requiring “the greatest originality and inventiveness.”
I can hardly disagree. Except on one point. Because I see fantasy as abundantly truthful, engaging the real reality, not the temporal one, I don’t think there needs to be a great balance. From my perspective, that’s like saying, We need to balance how much we think about the truths of the Bible.
Actually, we can’t think about Truth too much. Rather, Truth helps us to balance this life, the mundane in particular.
In conclusion, I can think of only one good reason for someone not to read fantasy: they can’t relate to the fanciful. I have one friend like that. She claimed she didn’t care for fantasy, and I assumed this was because she hadn’t read the really good stories. For my sake, she read The Hobbit and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Unfortunately, her opinion hasn’t changed. She doesn’t think it’s sinful or any of the other accusations thrown at fantasy. She simply doesn’t enjoy it. She prefers biographies.
OK, I’ve come to accept that the way God has made us results in some readers preferring one genre over another. Great writing will generally pull readers out of their preferences, however, which is why Tolkien and Lewis are so widely read. But even they won’t win ’em all.
Too bad, because fantasy shows me Truth and Reality like no other stories, and I’d like to see everyone enjoy the same.