Friday, March 13, 2009

Fantasy and Healthy Escape

One curse of the modern world is to always keep us busy. Playtime is generally the priviledge of children. So are flights of fancy. Adults are supposed to be productive, and the products of the imagination aren't concrete enough to hold much weight in our society.

And yet, fantasy novels, movies and visual arts continue to flourish. This is because many of us need a certain kind of consolation that is best offered by magical tales. Our busy-body activities can only keep us distracted from our woes. Fantasy offers escape - and I mean escape in a noble sense.

Sometimes we need to escape even when everything is going well in our lives, and our days are relatively free from conflict and stress. There still may be an underlying sense of sadness, loneliness, or fear. Like Buddha observed, all life is sorrowful. To some extent we're always aware that we will, sooner or later, lose everything that we cherish in life.

Becoming lost in a fantasy world brings a kind of comfort that is hard to explain to those who haven't experienced it. In a way, it shouldn't be described as escape at all - because we're really IMMERSED in life. But we're witnessing all the themes in human experience being played out in another place and/or time.

This kind of "mental vacation" brings not only relief but also new insights. I'll describe something I'm sure many of you have experienced. I've dwelt upon something that's bothering me, examining the situation from every possible angle. Finally I've given up in frustration and turned to something else...and it's only THEN that a solution pops up in my thoughts from out of nowhere.

What happens in those situations is that we stop focusing on the problem and feeding it our energy. Once we turn our attention somewhere else it's like there's a space created within our minds through which inspiration can flow.

Perhaps this explains why the heart can so easily grow cold towards the familiar. At times it takes something exotic to stir it to life. There should always be fantasy - and new inventions within its worlds, so that the stories never grow stale. Reading about a protagonist struggling against incredible odds, we can realize that our own suffering is not so private an affair after all. If he or she can prevail, then so can we.

We will always need new stories to capture the spirit of grand adventure with all of its perils and wonders. Escape is healthy.

Seth Mullins is the author of "Song of an Untamed Land", a novel of speculative fantasy in lawless frontier territory. Visit Seth at

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