Wednesday, January 5, 2011

David Whitley’s Thoughts on the Unreal

For me, the most ethereal faerie enchantments have just as much charm as a solid piece of sci-fi hardware. I love the unreal: the power, and wonder, and delight of worlds where nothing can be taken for granted, and everything is new.

The only question is...why?

What is it about fantasy that is so beguiling? I mean, one of the cardinal rules of fiction is supposed to be the possibility for the audience to identify, to sympathise with the characters and recognise their own lives. In Poetics, Aristotle suggested that the purpose of fiction was to purge emotions, to let us experience all the joy and grief that, were it real life, might otherwise overwhelm us. (Whitley’s article)

What do you think?  Why do you love the unreal in fantasy?


James Wood said...

I love the wonder of discovery. My favorite stories from history are those of the explorers who went where no one had ever gone before. I like the same thing in my fiction. I want a world to discover and explore. I want a fully created and intricately detailed world that is different and wonderful. Copying and pasting the magic system from Dungeons and Dragons doesn't do much for me, but creatively inventing a reason for magic that makes sense but is still mysterious just gets me interested and wanting to read more.

Anonymous said...

This from George R. R. Martin:

"The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real ... for a moment at least ... that long magic moment before we wake.

Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.

They can keep their heaven. When I die, I'd sooner go to middle Earth. "

Remember the first time you saw Star Wars? That opening scene where the Star Destroyer enveloped the screen with it's total hugeness? Well, in that scene there is a rumbling of its engines as it moves forward, shooting at the rebel blockade runner. Those laser blasts made sounds, too. But in space, we're told, -I've never been there- there is no sound. Now watching some of the scenes in 2001 with no sound compared to that opening scene in Star Wars, it's easy to realize that while there is no sound, there should be sound. It seems cooler that way. The lie is easier actually to watch because it makes sense to us. No sound in space? That doesn't make any sense. Sure, you can explain it with science, but, c'mon, no sound in space? That's just dumb. Even if the lack of sound is the only way the tagline from the original Alien works.

In that same way, there's something in fantasy/sci-fi that to each of us is cooler than the real world, and I would bet that is why we read it. Sure, there aren't elves, magic, dragons, minotaurs, lightsabers, or Nazghul in the real world, but it's easy to see how the real world's coolness might be improved with their addition.

This desire for something earth-shatteringly cool is nothing new. Imagine explaining to a Greek from a couple of centuries before Christ's birth that the earth doesn't rest on the shoulders of Atlas the Titan.
"Nope, it just floats there," you'd say.
"Just floats there," I'm sure he'd ask. "Really? That's stupid."