Escape from Reality

Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisioned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!

J.R.R.Tolkien

I don’t read modern realist novels – I’ll read Victorian novels, historical fiction, science fiction, speculative fiction, dystopian fiction, magical realism and above all else fantasy, but I do not want to read a novel set in modern times telling the story of someone that I might wander out and meet on the street. I don’t need to read about reality; I’m living it.

For many years I felt like I needed to hide my love of fantasy; as though, somehow, it showed a weakness of character to only read fiction that offered an escape from the day-to-day. It’s been interesting to watch how fantasy has become mainstream as Tolkien and G.R.R.Martin’s fiction, in particular, have captured the hearts and minds of many people who would never pick up a 500+ page book, let alone a series of them. To me, films and TV shows based on my favourite fantasy novels are a poor substitute for reading them myself – like I’m reading the story through the filter of someone else’s perceptions – but I’m grateful that a wider audience now understand the draw of these stories.

It may seem that fantasy is simple: the hero gathers companions to take the shiny object to the place where it will help him defeat the great evil that threatens the land. There is a lot of that, of course, and I quite like it when it’s done well as I want to believe that good always triumphs and evildoers will be punished – we all must, as it’s the core of almost every myth and fairy story we hold dear. I also like the small moments, the little sacrifices and kindnesses that allow the hero to get the job done, like Faramir helping Frodo and Sam in Ithilien, or the farmer who gives Rand and Mat a ride to Caemlyn, because they often have larger consequences, and remind us that we don’t always know how an act that costs us very little can be the difference between life and death to someone else. Where reality can leave us feeling crushed by the seeming indifference of the people we meet, so wrapped up in their own lives, fantasy assures us that our actions have meaning, reminds us that our life is an adventure, and gives us strength for the fight.

And if that’s the case, then Tolkien was right – we have a duty to spread the word.

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5 Comments

  1. Eydris says:

    Wonderful post! I feel very much like you do. For me, fantasy/sci fi has always been a large part of my life, and I believe it’s themes are very important and relevant to us now. When the world is tumultuous, fantasy reminds us of strength, faith, and consequences for our actions.

    1. epalmerbrown says:

      Thanks! My degree is in English Lit and fantasy/sci-fi was treated like it didn’t exist – but so many of those stories are better than ‘proper’ literature.

  2. Carole says:

    Brilliant post Emma. I love reading to escape. Which for me means getting to explore somewhere new.. Even somewhere set in the past is new to me. Reading Sashenka by Simon Sebag Montefiore at the moment.

    1. epalmerbrown says:

      Thanks Carole. Have you read his ‘Jerusalem’? It’s technically history but not dry at all – he’s such a great storyteller.

      1. Carole says:

        I haven’t read it yet but heard lots of good stuff about it. 🙂

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