Thursday, September 13, 2012

Larger Than Life: Fantasy, And The Thing We All Want

What is the use of fiction?

I've asked myself that question before.  And there are two answers, really.  There is useless fiction and there is useful fiction.

I've always been of the opinion that useless fiction is something that has no value in your life; a story that has no theme, and cares little about developing character, two things that are closely related.

Now, there's a thing called useful fiction, and it generally falls into two areas.  First, informational fiction is the kind that you have to read for school.  I dislike it when a person thinks they can write a book in order to show a historical context in a way that, they assume, will attract people.  I've read far too many of these books, which are characterized by bad writing and a carelessness with the story.  (Some authors, however, do manage to pull this off, such as Paul Maier, who wrote an excellent book I recently read for school, Pontius Pilate.)

The second category of fiction is edifying fiction; that is, fiction that teaches us about something non-informational.  This is the kind of fiction that has a theme and a meaning behind the story, a meaning that reaches in to everyday life.  Truly good informational fiction is actually edifying fiction in disguise; it is only by becoming edifying fiction that it becomes interesting at all.

In edifying fiction, there are many, many genres.  Two of the main genres, the main branches of speculative fiction, are science-fiction and fantasy.  While science-fiction is an excellent genre, and one I enjoy writing, I'll leave it for another day.  Today's topic will be fantasy.

Fantasy has a peculiar and unique draw, especially in today's world.  But what is it that draws us about another world?

It is my opinion that fantasy draws us for the same reason we are drawn to religion.  There is one thing we all want, and it's something we can't get from this world.  Most of the world doesn't even know what they want, but they know they want it.  And so they go from philosophy to philosophy, pleasure to pleasure, religion to religion, searching for the one thing we all want.

Fantasy offers us a vision of a different universe, one in which we can experience something we could never find in our world.

In C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, four children discover another world, and meet a wondrous lion known as Aslan.  At one point in the series, however, Aslan says to them that they must discover him in their own world, under another name.

This is the perfect example of what I'm talking about: fantasy is a story that invites us to another world, only to reveal that we can find that world in our own.

In Tornado C, I'm striving to make this ideal a reality.  But how do we do it?  That's the question I've had to ask myself.  I've discovered that there is something we can do to make the translation process go easier.

Make your world larger than life.

In reviewing J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, Time said, "Majestic! ...The Silmarillion [has] fierce fairy tales, and fiercer wars that ring with heraldic fury."

I'm pretty sure anyone you ask will say that Tolkien's great epics feel larger than life.  He created a different world; but that world was hauntingly similar to our own.  It was a world in which there was depravity, and there was righteousness.  His characters showed courage, honor, and in the center of The Lord of the Rings was an unlikely, humble character whose only claim was that of virtue and goodness.  And that was what enabled him to achieve what no one else could.

In making our worlds larger than life, we amplify everything else.  Darkness is shown darker than we've ever seen it; light is shown brighter than we could have seen it without the lens of fiction.

Maybe that's why fantasy is so powerful.  It amplifies the thing we all want by making it larger than it could be in our own world.  Maybe that can set seekers on a journey to find that one thing.

Maybe it'll help them find it.


Abbey said...

I've never thought of fiction like that before! I think you're right, though.
If you think about it, every human wants (and needs) love. Everyone wants a friend, a companion. No one wants to be alone. Everyone needs a hero.
All stories have some sort of hero in them.
Star Wars has Luke and Leia and Han Solo fighting against the bad guys.
Star Trek has the Federation which is a whole bunch of planets reaching out into space to find peace.
Doctor Who has, obviously, the Doctor who goes around saving... well, mainly earth.
(Heh heh sorry... I have sci-fi on my mind).
Those who watch Star Trek and these other shows and those who read books like Twilight and Hunger Games are so drawn to it because the characters are noble (or in Twilight's case, they find "true love") heros.
People are drawn to heros and "true love" but the only real true love comes from Jesus.
And if people stopped running from Him, they might just find true happiness.
There's my thoughts, jumbled as they may be. I hope they made sense.

Kaycee said...

What a great post! The purpose of fantasy is something that has been on my mind recently, and I think you summarized it quite nicely.

I think another reason people love fantasy is that it is an escape. In the case of good fantasy, it is a wholesome escape. You get to leave this world and your troubles and go into another, where the good will always defeat the evil, even when everything looks hopeless. Whenever I am really stressed or sad about something, I always find myself reading a good fantasy. I am so thankful that there are so many good Christian fantasy writers now!

Well, that's my two-cents. Happy Writing! :)

Hannah Joy said...

Oh wow. This was exactly what I needed.

Great, great post. I have to chew on it some more. I know this is a lame comment, but I really can't say much more than you did (and the previous commenters did). ;-)

Ninja Tim said...

Hey Jake! I've heard the phrase "larger than life" plenty of times before, but the way that you used it made me think about it in a whole new way.

Fantasy writers should make their stories larger than life, not smaller than life. They shouldn't shrink down their own lives and problems and simply stick that into their stories. Rather, they should take those life themes and illustrate them by amplifying. By painting the darkness more deeply and the light more brilliantly, by enhancing the contrast. Then will the story be larger than life, and able to teach the reader something by drawing him or her in.