Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Fantasy is Not My Cup of Tea

Posted by Jerry on July 23, 2007

I just don’t get fantasy genres. Their appeal eludes me. Perhaps, I’m lacking in the unbridled imagination it demands; perhaps, I just refuse to entirely suspend my grip on reality for the completely supernatural. Perhaps, I insist on using my own mind in unraveling a plot as I go along than just being goaded on as a docile but awestruck spectator in the author’s fantasy world. Perhaps, the liberal use of the deus ex machina makes me feel inefficacious and as if I have been cheated off a truly innovative turn in the plot. Perhaps, I believe that a fantasy world is the easiest to fabricate: where you have no rules other than the ones you create, where nothing reins you in but your own imagination, and where plots and characters are as easily dispensable or modifiable as they are created. I believe little children do something quite similar regularly within the confines of their playful minds and cardboard boxes.

I just don’t get fantasy genres. Although, I do enjoy some of them for the momentary pleasure of being fascinated, I am hardly irresistibly drawn to them like a moth to a lamp. They never feature among my favorite works of art–although the movie versions of fantasy novels like LOTR and Harry Potter must be credited and recognized as superior works of technical skill and innovation.

Given the extreme detachment of fantasy worlds from the reality that I am familiar with, including to some extent the abstractions and motivations of their characters and the metaphysical laws governing their entities, I am hard pressed to regard them as artistic concretizations of my widest abstractions.

Indeed, I often find it difficult to extract the author’s metaphysical value-judgments from such works because they comment on a “reality” that is totally removed from anything I have ever encountered or will experience in the future; i.e., the world they present and their underlying commentary on that world is all alien to me in the most proper sense of the word. Typically, my reaction to such works project a detached sense of amusement–of the kind that accompanies the knowledge of how silly all of it really is–like an atheist watching a movie of ghosts, demons, souls, and angels and knowing at back of his head how utterly unmoved he is by all of it.

Perhaps, the most I can garner from a work of fantasy is the hint of a sense of life–a subconscious view of existence–“an emotional appraisal of life”–the widest and the most vague equivalent of an explicit metaphysical value-judgment.

On the other hand, the sci-fi genre is slightly more appealing to me: it is usually grounded in the existing or the very plausible reality and builds its imaginative fantasies on those set of rules. Some of my favorite movies and popular novels are sci-fi, like Gattaca, X-men, the Matrix, etc.

Ultimately, however, in my opinion, nothing can ever surpass the sheer pleasure of experiencing an incredibly complex and imaginative plot structure spun from the brilliance of a mind that has grappled with the existential constraints of reality. A plot that is wholly based on reality, wrestles with the tension between hard facts and the anarchy of free minds and volitional characters, and which logically but unpredictably progresses toward an eminently satisfying climax by virtue of some ingenuously crafted resolution.

In sum, I contend that nothing rivals the genre of Romantic Realism in literature. Although, none of what I have said should indicate that I am shortchanging the authors’ of immensely popular works like LOTR and Harry Potter their obviously evident literary skill and imagination–it’s just not my cup of tea.

[Edited for clarity and added examples to illustrate]

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13 Responses to “Fantasy is Not My Cup of Tea”

  1. sulz said

    me too. other than the ubiquitous ones like harry potter, i find it hard to enjoy the fantasy genre. and don’t get me started on science fiction!

    but i’ll give any book a go, though, if it comes highly recommended enough.

  2. Ergo said

    Sulz,

    I actually don’t mind science fiction, as I said in my post. I still haven’t started on a Heinlein, although I probably should, given what praises I hear.

    Reading a book is an important commitment that demands a considerable amount of your time; time is afterall the most valuable resource you have–time is essentially your life, the currency of your life. There are few other activities that demand so much of your time and mind’s attention. So I’m very careful as to which books will occupy my valuable time, and as soon as I realize I’m not enjoying a book or not gaining equal to or more than I am investing, I’ll drop it without a thought (like I most recently did with Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum and Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate.)

    So, no, I don’t give any book “a go.” I’m way too selfish with my time to do that; and reading is a serious matter.

    As an aside, I wanted to focus on a point I raised in my point regarding atheists watching horror movies. When I was a kid–and up until my teenage years during which I was still a religious believer–I would easily be afraid of horror movies, ghost stories, being alone in the dark, or of strange noises at night. In other words, my conscious premises as a religious believer elicited emotional responses of fear and panic at the unknown and the imaginary, in consonance with my conscious philosophy.

    Now that I am an atheist (for several years), i.e., now that I hold consciously rational premises, my emotional reactions are consonant with my rational premises and totally opposite of what I used to feel. (Remeber Ayn Rand’s principle of “rubbish in, rubbish out“).

    Now, watching horror movies is amusing at best and a bore at worst. Now, I don’t even think twice about being alone in the dark or pay any undue attention to “noises” in the dark. Now, even the mere *possibility* of there being scary, unknown, or supernatural creatures around me is not entertained by my rationally habituated mind and my consonant emotional responses. For me, this is an immense sense of self-confidence and egoistic pride in facing the world around me–devoid of scary unknowns and supernatural beings that render man helpless; religious believers can perhaps never comprehend or experience the same feelings.

  3. Charlotte said

    Hmm. A college friend once stated that her reason for not liking fantasy and sci-fi workds was that to her, they involved escapism, which she felt was below her.(!??)

    It’s just beyond me how anyone could read and not like the Harry Potter series and for that matter LOTR (I simply disregard the opinions of those who claim to dislike them without having read them). There’s just so much to appreciate!

  4. Ergo said

    Charlie,

    Your college friends sounds loony (in this matter). There’s no denying that it is an incredible feat of imagination and achievement to fabricate whole new imagined worlds with its own set of rules, characters, events, etc., and there is no denying that any author writing such fantasies and yet managing to command the attention of millions over the world in *this* very *real* reality speaks volumes about their superior skill and ability to relate the world of fantasy to the world we are familiar with. They are great works of popular fiction.

    Having said that, fantasy just ain’t my cuppa tea! 😉

    Incidentally, I did make several attempts to read Harry Potter, LOTR, and the Horror fantasies of Stephen King–mostly when I grabbed them from my friends just to see what the hooplah was all about. Can’t say that they gripped my attention in any significant way.

  5. satyajit said

    I’m not averse to reading fantasy when the plot is consistent. As long as there is logic, sound reason, and consistency, I’m quite ok with it. And I’m guessing thats what makes Harry Potter or LOTR so enthralling to so many. However, when logic is shortchanged to conceal a loophole in the plot, its bad fantasy (may be a nightmare).

    Having said all this, I haven’t got around to reading Harry Potter, LOTR, or Jasper Fforde’s Thursday next series. I do like magical realism like the works of Rushdie and Marquez.

    So, Ergo, is your non-participation restricted to Potteresque fanatsy or does it include even the genre of magical realism?

  6. Ergo said

    Satyajit, “magical realism” seems like such an oxymoron to me. I’m not familiar with the specific books in that genre, but my inclination is to say I won’t enjoy it.

    My mind simply resists things like magical portions, wands, wizards, dragons, souls, other realms of fantasy, etc. The inherent nature of magical elements is such that it affords any imaginable solution, scenario, or plot twist without any substantiation other than “because it is magic!”

    For example, just the other night, some Harry Potter movie was playing on Zee Studio. I tried making an honest effort to watch it, but it simply couldn’t sustain my attention for too long. I kept thinking that surely there’s something better on an other channel to watch. Nevertheless, I managed to catch the ending scene of the movie in which Harry Potter is battling some huge serpent or dragon… in the midst of the battle, suddenly, holy deus ex machina, first some random bird comes around and blinds the serpent’s eyes by pecking at it… then still later, after all that time spent on battling the serpent, a phoenix appears from nowhere with a sword and effectively kills the serpent. So I was like… ummmm… how convenient. If it’s simply gonna end in such a supernaturally convenient way, then why even bother pretending to have a gritty, realist, battle with a serpent in the first place!! LOL! 🙂

    (The Potter fans are gonna cast their petronas spell on me now for all this blasphemy! Aaarh!)

  7. LOL! It’s patronus, not petronas! LOL!

    But you’re COMPLETELY RIGHT about that movie, Ergo!

    That’s why it’s much better to read the books, because all those things are explained clearly. You can’t go by the movies because they’re trying to fit, like, 400-700 pages of story twists into a 2 hour movie, and usually, it just doesn’t work very well. They have to skip A LOT.

    So while it may seem to you like a very convenient thing to have a phoenix come to the rescue when the little boy is battling a giant snake, fans of the books will tell you there’s a very well constructed and logical reason for what took place. It’s just explained poorly in the movie version.

  8. satyajit said

    ergo, I suggest that you give “One hundred years of solitude” or “midnight’s children” a try, the same way i should try harry Potter

  9. Krish Raghav said

    Hmm. You might want to try the works of China Mieville (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_Miéville), Robert Jordan or George R.R. Martin. Or even Terry Pratchett (he writes Comic Fantasy)

    I wouldn’t use Harry Potter as example for the fantasy genre, because while it serves as a good introduction, it oversimplifies a lot of elements that make fantasy memorable. Your distaste for the overuse of deus ex machina will not apply for the authors I mentioned earlier.

    “A plot that is wholly based on reality, wrestles with the tension between hard facts and the anarchy of free minds and volitional characters, and which logically but unpredictably progresses toward an eminently satisfying climax by virtue of some ingenuously crafted resolution.”

    Fantasy does all that, except perhaps the reality bit. Okay, thats not a very convincing argument, but I wouldnt pass judgement on an entire genre based on a reading of Harry Potter and Stephen King. You could say that they, in a way, represent only mainstream fantasy, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

  10. Madmax said

    Ergo,

    Thanks for yet another interesting blog post. I am continuously impressed with the identifications you make coming from the Objectivist perspective. Yours is one of my favorite Objectivist blogs. And I too am not a fantasy person. I had the same experience watching the last Pirates’ movie that you did with the Harry Potter movie. Actually, I found the Pirates Of The Caribbean films even more surreal because it took fantasy and put it in a historical setting. For me I just could never buy into it. I’m too reality oriented I guess.

  11. Ergo said

    Thanks Madmax; although, I am not at all implying that Objectivists should properly consider the fantasy genre unfavorably in order to be consistent with the philosophy; the aesthetic theory of Objectivism does not dictate a normative response to art although it regards romantic realism as the best medium of capturing and fulfilling the purpose of art in man’s life. Remember that Rand placed a great emphasis on a personal sense of life response to art. In her words, “Art is the technology of the soul.”

  12. antiutopia said

    Can’t agree more *sigh*

    From Tehran with Love

  13. […] incredibly pretty, things, that I’m just enthralled with it. However, I reckon it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, like Ergo discusses on his […]

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