I was talking to a friend at church today about books. The conversation was linked to University (I'm going back to study English Literature and Creative Writing) and to a part time job I've applied for in a bookshop and to the novel that I am currently attempting to write. The novel I'm writing is fantasy, one of my favourite genres, and we were discussing the recent increase in interest in fantasy fiction thanks to such books as 'The Hunger Games' and the release of the new film of 'The Hobbit'.
I have always loved fantasy. Ever since a very young age I have read, to escape from the real world and from real life. And what better genre for escapism than fantasy? So far removed from reality that it's often set in different worlds. And I realised that, what if the reason for the recent upwards trend in fantasy fiction is a sign of more and more people wishing to escape real life and enter into other worlds? Reading is generally considered a distraction and a great form of escapism. And in the current social and economic climate, where more and more people are suffering and living in poverty, who wouldn't want to escape from those things? Ok, so those living in poverty are unlikely to be able to afford books, in fact, it is well known that those who come from poorer backgrounds are less likely to be able to even read; which in twenty-first century England is just appalling. But it makes sense. During the wars, popular literature was based around austerity and hopes for a great future, once we won the war. And in other times, the arts have reflected the times, literature often being referred to in terms of periods, such as 'the Romantic' period, or 'the Gothic' era. That's why, in the study of literature, context plays a massive part. Subjects such as history, philosophy and psychology all have their place in the study of literature because of the impact they have on writing.
Take Dickens for example. His novels are considered to be social commentaries; the themes within his writing including poverty, social stratification, politics, crime and post-industrial revolution working conditions. Without some knowledge of these things around the time Dickens was writing, literary scholars would be unaware of the historical significance of his works. Fantasy fiction may not appear to have the same significance in the sense that the themes teach us little or nothing about the world as it is today, but the very fact that it is a currently popular genre in literature does say something about how literature, and perhaps the arts in general, are seen in modern society. In the past, writing has served many different purposes; didactic/moral messages, propaganda, social commentary and even just pure pleasure. And each has had its place. In more ostentatious times, reading was considered an accomplishment and pleasure for those of a certain class and literature reflects that with a wealth of stories centering around the higher classes and idealistic notions of love and money.
Now, reading is still considered a leisure activity and in being thus, the themes seem to be more for pure enjoyment than anything else. But suppose that, aside from the pleasure aspect, fantasy fiction serves another purpose. Fantasy is fun and exciting and daring, and shows great imagination, and part of its charm is that it's not true. It is the purest fiction. But why is that so captivating to modern readers? Why are we so desperate to dive into stories of things that do not and cannot exist? Is it just that real life is too much for us to bear? That we want some kind of distraction, or better yet, an escape? I suggest that this is the case. People are so out of love with their own lives and with the real world, that they want to escape into other worlds, where amazing creatures and magic exist, and everything always works out for the best. I should know. I have always used reading as a form of escape, and what better escape than fantasy. There's just something so enchanting about the idea of '...and they all lived happily ever after.'