Currently reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (leisurely, I add) and I began to contemplate the function of fantasy and the imagination in writing. If anyone knows me well, you’ll realise that I have the tendency to find patterns and muse upon them – which is probably how I managed my literature degree (as literature is filled with patterns).
So, earlier this week, commuting or otherwise, I questioned “Why is it that protagonists have the habit of encountering or delving into the Fantastical (monsters, witches, wizards, vampires, zombies or otherwise) when they reach crossroads in their lives (puberty, a new home, a new school) or crises (the death of a friend, depression, bullying)?” E.g. Dorothy went to Oz when she attempted to run away from home – which made her realise the value of family and friends and the familiar.
Is the reason for escapism to really escape? Or is it for us to cope and come to terms with reality, to find a way back? And is this then why some people go insane when everything becomes too much? Maybe creating worlds for ourselves makes us feel okay again. And those that slip in the in-between are stronger than we make them out to be. They may be lost – for a while – but getting lost is a way for them to once again be found, and to find new meaning in life.
So, maybe going insane is just us escaping into our own fantasies (involuntarily) and figuring things out from the darkest depths within our psyche.
This brings me back to a strange time when I was eleven. During that time, I would have considered myself a normal child, but looking back and rereading diary entries from that time, I am both disturbed and fascinated by the way I saw the world back then.
And here I share something quite private with you anonymous readers.
When I was eleven, I recreated the world around me to cope with some unexplainable (I know it’s not a word, but I can’t find another word to substitute it) events in my life. The events themselves are not that important, but the way I recreated the world was – and still somehow is.
I recreated the world such that I had four goddesses in my life (my drawings of them were not unlike fairies, to be honest), and they were my protectors from evil. Whenever I feared anything I just imagined them standing or sitting beside me and comforting me, telling me it is alright. I imagined that they liked to dwell in the trunks of trees and therefore quietly smiled at the trees I passed by while walking to school. It was my version of an inside joke with myself.
But I also imagined terrifying things, like evil whispers outside the window while I was in class that threatened to take my life away from me. I envisioned dark tendrils creeping up at me, lacing themselves with my toes that hung out of my blanket in the middle of the night. The imaginary world of good versus evil became, to me, a simplistic means to control the way life kept moving around me.
And here I return to Neil Gaiman, whose two stories I’ve read (and am reading currently) seem to embody this magical realism. The Ocean At the End of the Lane stands out for more obvious reasons as a parallel to my eleven-year-old self and the world I created back then. As a child I stood at the proverbial cusp of reality and make-believe – so much so that I am unsure whether a childhood friend which I played see-saw with when I was six was real or I just made her up.
When you are six – or even eleven – what actually happened is not as important as how many magical realms you can traverse is – or how many quests you can complete are.
And maybe going back to all of these reasons as to why I saw the world that way back then made me realise the reason as to why I wrote as well. It even explains how I ended up writing on the subject materials I did while I did my poetry modules in uni. I’ve always had a much greater love for fantasy, and therefore saw myself as unable to fit within the literary confines of my domestic market – which are all stories on the society and the people (and the reason why I hated my fiction module ’cause my professor insisted that I write about things that actually exist in society).
I only realise now, and probably too late, that my voice does not exist purely in either realm: fantasy nor reality – but a straddle between the two. And that was what my “literary voice” was trying to tell me when I got into my advanced writing class and began writing a collection of poems about a cardboard girl trapped within her home by the magical (or otherwise) individuals within it.
The way I now see writing is as a means to understand the world around me and likewise slipping into the Fantastical should do the same. The same way that Richard (in Neverwhere) attempts to understand London above via London below, to truly see the world from a new perspective, I hope that the protagonists I write of someday will do the same.
Therefore why I write is not to escape from reality, it is also not to portray reality as it is as close as possible, but instead to show that reality is an unclear boundary between what is and what we hope it will be.
- Cumuloq <3