Ria is the lovely lady behind the Bibliotropic blog, bringing us endless quality book reviews and encouraging the whole world to read Mercedes Lackey. I welcome her today, as she brings us an article called "Escaping Reality".
One of the things that speculative fiction -- especially fantasy -- tends to get a lot of in accusations that the fans are only using it to escape reality. That it`s escapist fiction. And to the accusers, it thus naturally follows that escapist fiction is a bad thing.
But why? Even ignoring the fact that not all speculative fiction is fantasy ('fantasy' as a genre, I mean) and that not all fantasy is be necessity escapist, why exactly is it that escapist fiction is bad?
I've asked this question of naysayers. Usually the answer I get is, "Because it is." If I'm really lucky, I might get the answer of, "Because you're making yourself live in a fantasy world so you don't have to deal with your real problems."
Whoa, back up a second. Since when did fantasy fiction become conflated with fantasy role-playing, anyway?
That's what I think is at the heart of it. Let's face it, as popular as geek culture has gotten, there are some parts of it that will just never go mainstream, and role-playing (outside of a few video games) is one of those parts. And what's one of the biggest tabletop RPGs, the one that even today has to endure morons accusing it of being the gateway to Satanism? If you said "Dungeons & Dragons," you're right.
I think that a lot of people will reverse-engineer the connection. Fantasy fiction has many of the same elements of the only other fantasy thing they've encountered outside of the "Lord of the Rings" movies, and D&D has a dark cloud of baseless rumour surrounding it. But it's fantasy, so that's enough of a connection. And everybody knows that people play fantasy RPGs because they're too inept to handle the real world and thus would rather just slay some orcs than get a job.
Okay, so maybe that is where it comes from. The connections, and the assumptions. But what I really want to know is why people think a little escapist fiction is a bad thing. Because here's a little secret that these people don't want to let you in on: EVERYBODY DOES IT!
Seriously. Maybe not everybody will mentally visit a fantasy world, but there are dozens of ways to escape reality, and we all do it every day, for reasons ranging from boredom to *gasp* escaping our problems for a little while. When we go to the theatre and watch a movie, that's just as escapist as reading a fantasy novel. When we sit and daydream about finding a way to become a billionaire, that's escapist too. And let's not forget about that all-too-common adult pastime: drinking until you pass out.
We all engage in escapism from time to time. It's normal, it's healthy, and there's no form of escapism that's more or less valid than the other. The trick is knowing how to leave the fantasy behind at the end of the day. When I finish reading one of Mercedes Lackey's "Valdemar" novels, I don't close the book and get genuinely confused as to why local law enforcement officials aren't riding around on telepathic white horses. No matter how good a book is, and no matter how crappy my life may be, I know how to leave the fantasy as a fantasy. But some people seem genuinely confused as to how I'm capable of doing that, wondering why I would even like the fantasy genre if not to try and hide from my own mundane woes.
I think the worst part of it is that these people sling around the very stones and arrows that they themselves are riddled with, because they don't actually know what escapism is, or to what degree is actually healthy and normal. Sure, maybe there are days when slaying orcs on paper seems like a better idea than reading job ads again, but that's why role-playing is a hobby. Because I enjoy doing it. But I"m better adjusted, thank you very much, than to start shrieking because I think an orc will jump out of the shadows at me. As are nearly all other role-players. As are nearly all people who enjoy speculative fiction and the fantasy genre.
Besides, if these people don't start thinking about their assumptions and changing their minds, I'm going to send my telepathic white horse after them. It knows a Level 3 Fireball spell.
Thank you so much, Ria!