As part of my Guest blog series for authors and fellow bloggers I am proud to present another guest blog spot. Touch of Iron I am very excited andthe author of
byis out NOW!
So go grab a copy!
By Timandra Whitecastle
As early as 1939, J.R.R. Tolkien made a point to critics of fantastical literature who belittled it as ‘escapist.’[i] He said, and I better quote this: “Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.”[ii] Sadly, though, Fantasy (or speculative fiction in general) still carries this stigma of escapism. Supposedly readers enjoy this kind of fiction because they feel the need to flee from reality, be it for a few hours, and escape to different worlds, to realms of imagination. We close our eyes, click our heels (open our Kindles), and thank God we’re not in Kansas anymore.
But, like Tolkien, I don’t think this is true. I think so-called escapist literature is still misconstrued as the ‘Flight of the Deserter.’ And I’d go even further than Tolkien (who is undoubtedly one of the most important authors in our genre), so far as to say that readers of speculative fiction get a wholly different kick out of reading ‘fairy stories’ than stealing away from the world for a few hours.
Reading Fantasy is not a desertion of reality, it’s practice for real life.
Now, our world today is even more complicated than Tolkien’s was back then – his hatred for “the noise, stench, ruthlessness and extravagance of the internal combustion engine” is well documented, not only in this essay, but also in his primary work The Lord of the Rings (which I assume, if you’re reading this, you are familiar with it, and don’t need me to spell out Sauron and Saruman for you.) So one could argue – and I’m sure someone has – that the resurgence of the Fantasy genre in mainstream culture is very much a direct reaction to the often bleak experience of our every day drudgery. In reality, we know that no single person on this planet has all the answers needed to fix the horrors and broken mess surrounding us on a daily basis. As I’m writing this post, the headlines have been filled with one catastrophe after another, and I’m not even talking about the climate catastrophe that we can’t turn back anymore. #BlackLivesMatter, brutal harassment of women in public spaces (like Twitter or convention sites) in countries which supposedly have equal gender rights, in France a guy decides to drive a lorry into a crowd – WTF?
Reality, as we know, bites. Mostly, though, it sucks. Is this only a recent development, a 21st century thing? Nope. “Escape’s companions,” Tolkien wrote in 1939 on the brink of World War II, “are Disgust, Anger, Condemnation, and Revolt.”
Yes, to all of these. Here’s a short open letter to Reality:
I’m disgusted with you. I’m angry you’re still not better than you were. You are broken and desperately need treatment. Go and get help already. You’re making us all sick, and you don’t really deserve another chance. It’s time to turn the tables. I’m staging a revolt against your utter uselessness and stupidity.
Timandra – Long Live Fantasy – Whitecastle.
But how? How do we revolt? Sticking up three fingers and whistling a tune, Hunger Gaming along with Katniss? Pur-leese no! Our Revolution must be a spiritual one, a quiet one, for we are rebelling against a prison for our minds.
We’re not abandoning our reality by fleeing into fantasy worlds. We’re studying them to find out how to fix the mess we’re in. (Tweetable, no?)
By reading speculative fiction we’re … experiencing the horrific nature of reality without the filter of broadcast media. We live through much of the trauma directly through POV characters. We live it first hand. We know what abuse feels like, verbal or physical. We feel the horrors of wars and devastation, and its aftermath. We know the pain of rejection in all forms. We know that the odds against us are insurmountable. And thus, through reading, we come to understand the difference between surviving and living. With understanding comes great power, and with that … great responsibility.
By reading speculative fiction we’re … reverse engineering.
Fantasy means building worlds only to tear them down again, and again, and again. We’re becoming very skilled at smashing things into pieces through despotism, warfare, wizarding madness, dragons, white walkers, zombies, and fucking sparkly teenage vampires, and then trying to figure out how to make things whole again. (Jon and Daenerys. I mean, it’s called A Song of Ice and Fire for a reason…) There is no scenario of world doom that hasn’t been tried out in speculative fiction in one way or another, and most of them can still be used as allegories even if Grandmaster Tolkien hated allegorical tales. But here’s a thought: Malcolm Gladwell said that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in any given thing.
By reading speculative fiction, we’re … investing our time, our 10,000 hours to become masters in problem solving. Not mathematical type of problem solving, though there’s probably a book for that, too. I mean creative, epic proportions problem solving. I mean taking a tough issue and playfully approaching it, and thus surprising everyone with a simple, yet elegant solution no one so far had thought of. Out of the box thinking – you know, like Ender’s Game?
But let’s take a step back again, step away from global, and look at the internal development for a moment.
There are enough examples of readers who have made public their stories on how xyz book(s) saved their life, helped them out of severe depression, gave them hope and the will to carry on. In-fucking-spired them. But that’s not the case with everyone. So what is going on in the minds of you and me when we read fantasy? Are we fleeing reality?
By reading speculative fiction, we’re … experiencing an especially potent form of closure. The author writes the words, sure, but it is us, the reader, who fill them with meaning, who take them into our minds and hearts and let them dwell there, take seed, grow into something other. Something new. Now our minds do not distinguish between real experiences and fantasy ones. Research has shown that the patterns that shape our thinking literally shape our physical brains. By vicariously living the adventures of our favorite characters, we are literally carving new grooves, thinking in new paths. As readers, we know that Story does this all the time. Our minds crave closure and enforce it everywhere, and nowhere better than in Story, in narration. Everyday we tell the story of our lives, and because we’re so used to story structure, we have the confidence despite the obvious tragic ending of all humans in death that success, even if it isn’t probable, is at least possible. We know effort is never pointless or without hope – we want the characters in our stories to struggle, we want them to try, and we want to watch them fail, fail, fail, because hitting rock bottom is instructive – not only to the character’s development – but also to us. (Even if we go on to discard the proffered solution as non-applicable. I’m sorry, Jorg – it’s not you, it’s me. No. Wait. Actually, it is you.) It’s a form of practice that becomes nearly meditative. If you can imagine it, you can do it.
„All tales may come true,“ Tolkien ends his essay. But I say, not just ‘may’ – we can make them true, because we make them real in our own minds. And only then, if they are real in our minds, can we use them to find new paths, carve new grooves, tell different stories, and thus shape the reality around us anew.
 On Fairy stories was published alongside Tolkien’s Leaf by Niggle in Tree and Leaf, 1964. You can find a pdf version here: http://www.rivendellcommunity.org/Formation/Tolkien_On_Fairy_Stories.pdf
 Page 11.
Is the Living Blade real or just a legend?
With it… Prince Bashan could win back his kingdom.
Master Telen Diaz can free himself of the burden from his past.
Owen Smith sees a once-in-a-lifetime chance to gain untold knowledge.
… but for Noraya Smith, the Living Blade will bring nothing but suffering and sorrow.
“Realistic, character-driven fantasy that manages to both sever limbs and warm the heart.” – Kirkus Reviews