Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Saving the World From Fantasy

My daughter's History teacher goes on a class-long rampage if a student mentions the word "Twilight." Not because she thinks the last book is somewhat sexually explicit for 13-year-olds, or because the romance is a tad over the top. She thinks Edward is "too perfect," which gives kids "an unrealistic view of the world." My daughter rolls her eyes as she tells me this.

Er, by the way, did we forget Edward is a vampire? He sucks blood for dinner. Craves his girlfriend's blood. But no, the story isn't realistic. The genre is called Fantasy. Definitely not History.



Sigh. Another fantasy-basher.

I couldn't help thinking about the anti-fantasy proselyters that came to my door a couple of years ago. And since I'm still trying to finish up my novel to send off by the end of the month, I thought I'd rerun this post.

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Here's a real-life story for a Friday afternoon.

Once upon an actual Sunday morning, not too many months ago, a couple of lovely, polite, and very earnest people knocked on my door, Bible in hand.

Earnest Woman: "We're worried about the disturbing trend of children's books about witches and wizards and magic."

Me: (blink)

Earnest Woman: "I see you have children, I'm sure you're concerned about their well-being?"

Me: "Mmmm."

Earnest Man: "We'd like to read you a verse from the Bible about the dangers of witchcraft, if you don't mind."

Me: "Mmmm."

Whereupon they proceeded to read a verse where Paul warns against seeking out witches and wizards who "peep and mutter."

These people were so earnest, and really nice, I didn't have the heart to tell them that I, myself, had written two books about witches and magic. I didn't want to horrify them.

I also didn't have time--I would have been late for church--to explain how I (and a large number of fantasy-writers out there) can claim to be Christian and justify writing witch books: George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien among them, not to mention J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer. These books we're talking about ARE imaginary, after all, not how-to books, or tracts.

Fantasy is not supposed to be literal, I wanted to say. No witch is ever simply a witch, no monster is ever just a monster, as author Brandon Mull (Fablehaven) likes to point out, and magic isn't exactly magic, either. Symbolism allows a story to take on as many different meanings as it has readers, each person bringing his own real-life experiences with him. Story is inherently interactive that way, even read alone under the covers at night.

I could go on: fantasy lets a child lay out her fears and look at them in a way that doesn't have to hurt so much it cripples her. It lets little people go away for awhile and do the impossible, and then they can come back to regular life and see new possibilities. Ideally, it leaves them with hope, and that's not imaginary at all. Not incompatible with Christianity, either, as far as I can see. Even Jesus told parables. And Job sure feels like fantasy to me. Which might be why it's such a powerful, meaningful story.

Well, I didn't say all that to the people on my porch. I didn't want to burst anybody's earnest bubble. I also didn't feel like apologizing for what I do all day. So I just blinked and said, "Thanks," and let them go on saving the neighborhood from witchcraft. I shut the door, got dressed, and tried not to giggle hysterically all through church.

And you can bet if you peek in my window on any given day, you'll see me typing away at my latest witch book. I didn't hear anything in that Bible verse to make me think that's such a terrible thing.

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