Today we welcome Anne Robinson with the second guest post of our new series, This is Why I Read. As a regular feature we will be offering guests the chance to talk about why we read, and offer insights from the sentimental to the seriously silly into why they personally, or we collectively need fiction in our lives. We are kicking off this new feature with a series of posts over Valentine’s Week to celebrate our LOVE of fiction. Up today is Anne, whose blog post Trivium Imaginarium started this whole fantastic discussion. Enjoy!
There and Back Again: The Restorative Power of Fiction
Guest Post by Anne Robinson
“I am always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality.”
– Flannery O’Connor
The Hobbit was a book I read through twice in two days. I was nine years old. Since then, like many other fiction readers, I have found myself in the position of defending my “juvenile” reading habits.
You know the arguments. Fiction allows us to escape from the boring every day-ness of reality. Fiction provides the deepest insights to an author’s beliefs. Fiction explores human experiences. Fiction upholds our most revered virtues: heroism, selflessness, hope, trust.
And that all may be true, but over the years I’ve found myself believing in a more powerful truth about fantastic literature.
Fairy tales, myths, and never-never-land stories have been regarded as escapist literature, and I don’t disagree with this accusation. Reading (and many other past times) is an act of escape. Whether it’s the newspaper or a science text-book, I find myself temporarily elsewhere making observations, decisions, and other thought processes that have nothing to do with my current surroundings. I’m not concerned in the least that fiction literature is escapist. So is the evening news. I’m more concerned as to where I’m escaping to.
Unlike the evening news, which is strictly informative (although we could argue about that!), literature is an art and like all good art strives to fulfill its function. News tries to be factual, art tries to edify. C. S. Lewis regarded the position of fiction writers as the most influential, the most powerful, of vocations. The ability to create other worlds that “…we can all walk into and test and in which we find such a balance…what we chiefly escape is the illusions of our ordinary life.” (Of Other Worlds, 1942 essays).
This is what I believe. Fact: invented worlds can plunge the reader into reality by escaping “the illusions of ordinary life.”
I see trees every day, or perhaps I used to until they became so mundane they might as well be invisible. The same invisibility cloaks the person who rides the subway with me, the boy who makes my espresso at the Starbucks, the meals I cook every day. How can I consider, even for a moment, that escaping into some enchanted world is juvenile when I have the ability, dare I say the habit, to enchant my daily life?
C. S. Lewis, one of my favorite “juvenile” authors, has this insightful example from the same essay:
“The value of [fiction] is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity.’ The child enjoys his cold meat (otherwise dull to him) by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savoury for having been dipped in a story; you might say that only then is it the real meat.”
I seek out the invented daily lives in a story not because I’m escaping real life, but rediscovering it. And marvelously, stories do this not only to my surroundings but to my experiences, my fears, my joys. I’m concerned about where I’m escaping to, because at some point I’m going to come back again and fix my newly adjusted eyes upon my reality. I believe reading fiction does this for everyone, if they consciously know it or not.
I have found that we, especially my generation, underestimate the power of imagination. Responding dismissively or indifferently; either subsisting on a diet of largely non-fiction or bingeing on the latest junk fiction.
In a world full of such amazing things as trees and espressos, we have the ability to enchant ourselves into seeing them as mundane…perhaps we can learn to use our powers for good.
“You had to hand it to human beings. They had one of the strangest powers in the universe. No other species anywhere in the world had invented boredom.”
I would like to leave you with three recommendations of what I consider some of the best introductory works of restorative (i.e. good) fiction. Like everyone else, I have my special favorites.
- The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany. A fantasy full of trolls and elves, we explore the otherworldliness of fairyland; the ever-changing borders of the enchanted realm and its delights or “singing streams” and distant places where “the tiny strawberries grow.” It’s a shock when the author changes the perspective to that of a fairyland inhabitant and we suddenly view our own world as strange and alien.
- The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. I never fully appreciated this book until I read it as an adult. Full of literary illusions, from Shakespeare to Greek myths, I fell in love with the writing and the characters simultaneously. It has altered my perspective of friendship for the rest of my life.
- Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. Recommending a book by an author who knows what he’s about, this is a restorative work of a restorative work. Get your head around that. Subtitled “A Myth Retold” Lewis recreates the story of Cupid and Psyche, adding an entirely new level of meaning to the beloved myth.
Anne Robinson is the author of Quenarth, a blog about whatever is currently on her mind. Anne has a B.M. in classical piano performance, and while music is one thing she does well she also enjoys doing many other things badly: painting, sketching, singing, ballet, linguistics…and blogging. Visit her online at Quenarth.
(This series was inspired by the seed post Trivium Imaginarium by Anne Robinson)
- This is Why I Read: The Gift of Fiction (Aurelia)
- This is Why I Read: Super Powered Imagination (Aurelia)
- 40kbooks: 11 sci-fi and fantasy novels you shouldn’t miss (40kbooks.com)
- My Five Faves of 2010 (fiction) (westernthm.wordpress.com)