Friday, February 12, 2016

The Cozy Book Corner No. 2: The Lure of the Fantastic

Welcome to my Friday feature!

In each bi-weekly post, I will 
explore my thoughts on several 
book-related topics.

There are many reading genres, but certain people will gravitate toward fantasy and science fiction time and time again, to the exclusion of all others.  Although I am an eclectic reader, I do tend to read mostly these genres, as well as paranormal romance and urban fantasy.  I especially enjoy reading YA paranormal romances. However, this blog is dedicated to literary fiction, as well as nonfiction, so I don't review this genre here, but at my YA blog, A NIGHT'S DREAM OF BOOKS, which is totally dedicated to Young Adult Fiction.

I do review adult fantasy novels here, though. I intend to post reviews of such books as The Lord of the Rings at some future point, for instance. And, of course, I will also be reviewing adult science fiction.  

So what is it about fantasy and science fiction that so appeals to many people, although not all?  Is it merely the curiosity factor?  Is it the wish to escape?  But if so, escape from what?

It’s both of these things, and much more.  It’s the desire to tap into the deepest recesses of our minds, where symbols thrive, living in a world of their own, a world that our waking, rational minds find to be weird, incomprehensible.  Fantasy, science fiction, paranormal romance, and urban fantasy access this world that lies beyond consciousness.  It is the world of the archetypes, those eternal realities first described by Carl Jung as the denizens of what he termed “the collective unconscious”.  He differentiated this level of the mind from the personal unconscious, which is that belonging to the individual person.  The collective unconscious is the heritage of the entire human race. 

I believe we long to experience this level of the mind. However, since our waking consciousness finds it nearly impossible to communicate with it, we rely on symbols, mythology, fairy tales, and stories of alien worlds.  We even yearn to experience, at least vicariously, all the strange, wonderful adventures that are impossible to find in our waking reality. 

Why do we want to live in the world of the collective unconscious?  Perhaps because we feel the need to compensate somehow for the monotony of so-called ‘reality’, with its daily, boring routines -– the morning commute, the gossip at the office, the bills in the mail…  For those still in school, there are the piles of homework, being bullied by classmates (although co-workers and bosses can also be bullies), not being asked to go to the prom….  There has to be more to life than these mundane things!  

So it is that we dream, each and every night, and enter that alien, unconscious world.  So it is that we seek it when awake, through the works of such authors as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ursula K. LeGuin, L.J. Smith, Madeleine L'Engle, George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, and so many others that transport us into strange alternate realities, thus helping us to live as heroes and heroines, rather than ordinary people.  So it is that we become part of a world deep within us, while at the same time, part of the very cosmos itself.

Of course, my interest in these literary genres began in childhood. I read books such as Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, The Tales of Andersen, and The Tales of Hoffman. i also read collections of the stories of the brothers Grimm, and tales from other countries, as well. Like many children born with "the reading gene", I became totally absorbed by these stories, and frequently had to be pulled back to Earth by parental demands to "finish your homework", "come and eat dinner before it gets cold", and the like. 

As I grew, I discovered that these wonderful stories were "just make-believe".....much to my disappointment. My parents, although readers themselves, did not share my love of the fantastic and unusual, preferring to read realistic fiction, nonfiction, or biographies. I was not at all interested in such books at the time (early adolescence), although I do remember reading a book about an expedition to Annapurna, which I greatly enjoyed, when I was around 8 or so. I did read a lot of horse books, as well; I devoured the Black Stallion books, Black Beauty, My Friend Flicka, Man O'War, and many others. These books do fall under the heading of realistic fiction. I never stopped reading and liking fantasy, however.

When I was around 12, a classmate -- a very imaginative girl named Sylvia -- introduced me to science fiction. She drew wonderfully detailed spaceships, much to my fascination. She also claimed to be from another planet, and solemnly told me that her real name was "Chel-al Burr". I was delighted, and began feverishly reading such books as the Lucky Starr series, which Isaac Asimov wrote, using the pen name Paul French.

In my twenties, I first encountered the enchanting world of Middle Earth, and fell headlong into it..... I did walk around and functioned in "the real world", but in my mind, I LIVED in Middle Earth; the hobbits and Gandalf were almost as real to me as people I encountered in daily living. 

Years later, the same thing would happen to me when I first met Harry Potter, and yearned to be a student at Hogwarts Academy of Witchcraft and Wizardry.....

Of course, there was also "Star Trek" (the original series). That universe also took me in, enveloping my mind in the wonders of space travel. While this was initially only a TV show, it soon spawned novels derived from it, which I promptly began to collect. I have read some of these, although by no means all, something I hope to remedy this year!

It was The Twilight Saga that got me hooked on paranormal romance and urban fantasy, as well as Young Adult Fiction. Although I had been reading vampire romances for some time, I soon found out that the Twilight novels were totally different, and I just couldn't get enough of them! Another PNR/UF/YA series that totally fascinates me is The Night World series, by L.J. Smith, which also departs from more traditional vampire tales.

I do read realistic fiction from time to time, but there's nothing like a fantasy element to reel me in! And so I dive into Jung's collective unconscious, where I feel most at home, where things are usually not what they seem, where wonders never cease to delight and stun me, where i can find out what unicorns think, where I can grok boys from Mars, where I can play Quidditch with Harry Potter and listen to the lilting melodies of the elves at Rivendell, or yearn for the happiness that Bella can find in Edward's arms....

And so I dream, even as I am awake. i am not alone in this, for there are many of us in the world. We live life, not as it is, but as it really should be. We yearn for dragons to combat the falling threads on Pern, for daring princess warriors who also want to be swept off their feet by equally daring prince warriors, for flying unicorns and elves and space federations and lovelorn ghosts and sweet vampires and werewolves and.....

It's a never-ending story. The story of the imagination. The story of the ever intertwining threads of archetypes in the long-ago mists of Time, still living in the pages of books, to be eagerly devoured by 21st century seekers on the Quest.....

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Brian Joseph said...

Outstanding post Maria.

Your observations about tapping into things in our unconsciousness is right on the money.

I would also like to throw another reason out. I was always drawn to harder science fiction that involved optimistic futures. I believe achieving such a future is one of the highest endeavors that people can pursue. Obviously Star Trek is a prime example of such optimistic future. Interestingly such optimistic visions seem to be not very popular these days. Star Trek is a rare exception.

Though there are some real worries for humanity, I thing that such an optimistic future is very plausible and still a real possibility. Thus I am very drawn to these types of stories.

Maria Behar said...

Hey, Brian!

Thanks for the good word!! Much appreciated!! :)

I think your thoughts about optimistic futures are right on the money, as well! This is indeed another reason for the popularity of fantasy and science fiction. The bad guys ARE defeated in the end, unless, of course, you're reading a literary fiction type of fantasy and/or science fiction. For some reason, literary fiction tends to be overly pessimistic. That's one thing I don't like about it. Literary critics prefer it to what is termed "popular fiction", but, although the prose is masterful and the characterizations profound, optimism is not usually a feature of such books. In fact, they tend to be tragic, for the most part. (I'm thinking of "Tess of the D'Urbervilles", for instance.)

"Star Trek" was always optimistic, and presented a positive view of the future. Humanity had reached the stars, and there was a United Federation of Planets. Although the Klingons and Romulans were at times a problem, everything got resolved in the end. The crew of the Enterprise was presented with a problematic situation at the beginning of each episode, and, by the time the episode ended, it was satisfactorily resolved. There were, however, some sad episodes, such as 'The City on the Edge of Forever", in which Kirk fell in love with, and then lost, Edith Keeler. Spock also fell in love in two different episodes, and also lost the women in the end..... But the optimistic vision of the future was still there, as the backdrop of the series.

I guess I should try watching the other versions of "Star Trek", just to get acquainted with them. But my first love will always be the classic version. The combination of characters was just SO perfect!

Thanks for the great comment!! :)