Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why make up a world?

Response to a non-fantasy reader’s question.

I rather like the rational mind. Too often we disparage it, saddened as we are by memories of its failures, by centuries of spectacular hubris conducted in its name. Ruins atop ruins lie beneath our feet: the deep strata of stupidity born, among other progenitors, of too much faith in rationality, and too little imagination.

Nonetheless it’s a good mind, within its limits, and certainly the best item in our species’ little toolbox. So when the rational mind tells me that the world around me is the only world, I treat that verdict with respect.

And then dismiss it. There is an Elsewhere I believe in, a twilight kingdom or a phase-shifted universe, or a province reached in the grip of delirium or dream. I look for this place in books, of course, but also in certain music, the noises of animals, the dregs of the wind. I have a feeling this is an odd thing to talk about in a blog.

Alifros is naturally my attempt to get back to this place and stay awhile. To go there is, for my money, one of the purest privileges of being alive, and one of the least corrupt. The paths there are the common achievement of a volunteer band of imagineers (writers, readers, actors, roleplayers, storytellers of a hundred kinds) who seek never to fence it off into private property but only to nurture its beauties, repair its footbridges, prop up the wooden signs at its crossroads.

Sometimes the land that opens before me is Tolkien’s. Quite often in dreams I’ve strayed down Tolkien’s paths, and off them too, into woods and vales on which The Lord of the Rings spares only a sidelong glance. The Mountains of Mirkwood. The Ice Bay of Forochel. There were younger entry points too, notably CS Lewis and Susan Cooper, both of whom are currently being rather ill-served by Hollywood. At other times it’s been a land first charted by le Guin or John Crowley or Italo Calvino, or sung by Lucilla Galeazzi, or captured in a line of Yeats: Give to these children, new from the world, rest far from men/Is anything better, anything better? Tell us it then:

No, nothing is better, in a world wearied by the iron certainties of the powerful, the efficiency regimes, the petty caricatures of Divine Will that spew from a million mouths for a million reasons, the Keep Out and Keep In and Keep Busy signs that practical people are hammering up in our imaginations anywhere one can sink a nail.

When we go elsewhere, we reconsider, with the most generous part of our minds, the possibilities latent in both human and inhuman nature. That is the path to redemption, if such a path exists. That, for the record, is why I love what I do.


Occula said...

Thank you for articulating something so difficult to describe. The Other Lands, I often think, are one of the best gifts literature brings us.

I finished The Ruling Sea yesterday after complaining all weekend that I was nearly finished with a book I loved, one that reminds me of the book I'd like to write one day. Thank you for it.

Robert VS Redick said...

Thank you, Occula, for your kind words; they brought me a lot of pleasure. I'm so glad you like The Ruling Sea. Please spread the word! Nobody has as much credibility with readers as readers.

I wish you great success & joy with your own writing; keep me in the loop!

William Spademan said...

Possibilities -- yes. Well said.

Fantasy (notably yours) also makes it easier for us to see basic truths of current reality, by removing them from the confusion of real-world settings and real-world habits of thought.