In these generally worrying times (okay, recent political events might up that to “times of low grade panic”) one might imagine my answer to that question is: escape.
Escape. Escape. Escape.
Escape from my worry over the mundane. Escape from my worry over the acute. Escape from my worry over the global state of things AKA (as the great Canadian scientist David Suzuki describes it): “we’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit”. Immersing myself in alternate worlds of the fantastic and impossible takes me away from all of that. Right?
At least, not the kind of fantastical stories I’m drawn to.
Don’t get me wrong: I want adventure. I want to be thrilled and amazed and terrified and love-struck and overwhelmed and, yes, taken away. But I also want stories that illuminate, and question, and criticize things that are relevant to the here and now.
Because far from shielding us from reality, fantasy has the ability to draw back the curtain on it in a unique way. As it presents the glorious and impossible, it can expose our shortcomings, criticize our accepted narratives, boost voices and ideas ordinarily drowned out by the status quo. It can present truths that are hard to look at in our ordinary lives.
And it should.
Good fantasy, in my opinion, takes me away (escape!) and simultaneously points out the car and the rapidly approaching brick wall. I want wild and wonderful stories that speak to elements about reality that are so deeply true, I can’t help but ask the passenger beside me if someone shouldn’t grab the wheel.
The sky is the limit when it comes to the medium. Sometimes you need Were-caribou, or frog-men*, or dogs with psychic powers, or plagues that wipe out everything but a pack of rabid squirrels and a pack of equally rabid toddlers. (Note: I haven’t written any of these stories so A. Yes, you can use them- I will not cry intellectual property and B. Lest I lead you astray, no similar subject matter appears in my trilogy).
My preoccupations—the things I value, the things I wonder about, the things I hope for—shape the kinds of stories I want to tell. The act of creating fantasy, for me, is parsing out what (I think) I know, and departing from that by adding an element I can’t explain. I love the unexplainable and I adore answering the ‘what if?’ with the impossible. But whether I’m working with Were-caribou or frog-men or exploding toddler-squirrels, I have a responsibility to consider the source.
The source is us, with all of our shortcomings and flaws and moments of strength and weakness. All of the decisions we’ve made that shape our current existence.
And so, I don’t read and write fantastical stories to escape reality; I read and write them to better understand it.