Monday, December 20, 2010

Escape, Entertainment, Education

Kristian Everett explains:

Fantasy fiction is often accused of being escapist, containing characters and plot lines which whisk you away to other worlds and societies, drawing attention away from what's "real"; however, while fantasy fiction may indeed be escapist, literature which can provide an escape from the stresses of life should be valued. While academia insults and degrades fantasy fiction, the general public embraces it. We value forms of entertainment which give us ways of coping with our ever more stressful lives. This can be seen not only in fantasy fiction but also in the lucrative businesses of film and video games. We pay for escape, for entertainment, and for relaxation.

Institutions which provide entertainment with an escapist element receive billions of dollars a year. This tremendous profit margin conveys some sense of our value for entertainment. Film and video game industries produce products taking us away from our everyday lives. We go to the movies to watch characters interact in unknown worlds, overcome impossible odds, and find romance; we play video games to become these characters; we read fantasy to do both. In the United States there are a growing number of people on medication for anxiety, stress, and depression. Clearly, our daily lives are taking such a toll on our quality of life that we feel incapable of handling it on our own. Films, video games, and fiction provide an escape that's becoming necessary in order to deal with our lives.

Fantasy series such as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Eragon are all examples of the escapism of fantasy affecting larger and larger portions of our population. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in the production of these films and most produce an extremely lucrative profit. While we may scoff at fantasy fiction because it doesn't deal with real life, the general public eats up these film adaptations. Film adaptations are nothing more than faster, easier forms of the books, combining our desires for escape and entertainment with the demand for quick satisfaction: why read a book when you can watch the film in a fraction of the time?

Fantasy, however, does not simple serve as an escape for audiences and readers. Tied in with the escapism of the novels are moral ideals, role models, and social conventions. What makes fantasy great is that, while fantasy often entertains through stories of other worlds, strange societies, and complex relationships, it often reflects on portions of our own world and society. These lessons and values are inherent in fantasy fiction, because the authors of fantasy novels reside in the "real" world. These authors can't help but be affected by what's happening around them. Many of the concepts and tropes found in the early fantasy novels of foundational writers like Tolkien and Lewis reflect on real world issues, such as religion and war. Children and adults who go to see The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the theatres are there to be entertained. However, while they're being entertained the characters and the actions those characters take, the decisions they make, and the real world ideas they represent are subconsciously affecting the viewers.

Fantasy fiction is escapist, but this is alright. It's alright because fantasy is not merely escapist. It's a myriad of ideals and concepts, defining and addressing moral and social issues. It gives examples of real world lessons through characters of fantastic proportions. When you read a fantasy book or watch a film adaptation you might be there for the entertainment, to not think about your "real" life, but you're absorbing more than just escapism. You're absorbing values and traditions which other genres are upheld for. What makes other genres "superior" to fantasy can be found in fantasy as well. It's just disguised and absorbed into our conscious without our realizing it. It entertains and it teaches.

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