J. Robert King

Ed Greenwood—Day 6

On the Virtues of Escapism

“Escapism” is a dirty word for many critics of fantasy, but it is not to Ed. He echoes the sentiments of Tolkien and Lewis, who saw fantasy as a means of “moral recovery” and the release of imagination from its everyday chains. Here’s what Ed had to say:

The hardest element of real life for most of us to deal with is death. After that, rejection, poverty or economic insecurity, unfairness, disagreement with our ideas/views/positions, pressure/lack of sleep/lack of time, and inability to pursue what we want or are interested in, tend to be the daily devils for most of us in North America.

All fiction can be an escape from real-life troubles and pressures, and fantasy fiction more sharply than most fiction because it can depict clearer good and evil, and demonstrate—by the slaying of clearly identified, non-elusive monsters, and through the agents of our strong arms or our whizzbang spells—swift and decisive action, retribution, and the making of moral choices. In short, we can play the hero or identify with the hero, we can see evil vanquished and take comfort in that, and we can be what we can never be in real life (abandoning a real wheelchair or plain looks or lack of athleticism to be the popular, sought-after, agile, or mighty).

As a shared world, the Realms can be all sorts of escapes for all sorts of readers (and players, and designers, and artists, and miniatures sculptors, and so on). So yes, I have created a vast basket that can hold all sorts of escapes and satisfactions and aspirations. Yet it’s strong because it isn’t a one-story world; it isn’t all about one single quest and isn’t one ego-satisfaction. Because it’s varied and colorful and home to a host of stories, it feels more real than “The Land of Make Believe” of a simple child’s fairy story . . . so the achievements, including the escapist ones, that a reader gains from interacting with the Realms feel greater. (The trick is not to arrange or state things for too-swift, too-easy, too-simple gratification; “instant gratification” is very swiftly realized, and its results last very fleetingly, because we mentally just don’t value it as much as something won in a more long and hard process.)

Years ago, my young friends and I eagerly awaited each new Amber novel (of the original Corwin quintet) by Roger Zelazny, speculating as to which family members were behind what intrigue or action, and why. We all knew it was fictional, and we weren’t identifying with any of the characters, yet we were taking great delight in what might unfold in the next book, in the possibilities. That in itself was an escape from the overall boring powerlessness of our high school lives, the mundane irritations of being teens at the bottom of society’s hierarchy. We could leave our real-world lives behind for a few minutes, and be part of something exciting that mattered. Even if only to us, and only in our heads. That’s a part of what all fiction does.

Some folks use “escapism” in a pejorative sense, but I believe doing so is almost always a grave mistake. Make-believe and play are part of what humans do, to cope with life, and therefore escapism is a part of human lives, and part of what it is to be human.

February 6th, 2010
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