Friday, May 8, 2015

The Book Lover's Den #21: The Lure of the Fantastic

Welcome to my Friday feature!

In each weekly post, I 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 paranormal romances like The Twilight Saga and the Night World series.  In fact, I prefer such books to more realistic romance novels, although I do read those, as well -- occasionally.

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 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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  1. Superb post Maria.

    Science Fiction Books were my first love. I too grew up on this stuff. I read some fantasy but not as much. As you know the original Star Trek was an enormous influence upon me too. I also read some fantasy but not nearly as much.

    Great analysis as to the reasons that so many of us love this stuff. I think that you are really on to some truths hear. I was always fascinated by space travel. I do believe that it is humankind’s destiny to get out there and explore.

    1. Hey, Brian!

      Thank you so much for your kind appreciation of this post!

      Science fiction is so fascinating! And you know, I firmly believe that, in the hands of great masters, it also fits in the literary fiction category. Of course, I'm thinking of writers like Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, Clarke, and Philip K. Dick. There's another favorite writer of mine whom I think deserves to keep such company, as well: Corwainer Smith. Have you ever read any of his books? He's absolutely fabulous!! It's such a pity he died so age 53, in 1966. (Ironically, the year Star Trek first aired.)

      I do love fantasy, as well -- especially "The Lord of the Rings", and the Harry Potter series. Incredibly, I haven't read "The Chronicles of Narnia", but I will try to do so sometime this year, as that's another heavyweight classic. I'd love to read the Ice and Fire series, by George R.R. Martin (I do own a couple of the books), but wonder if I'll be able to. One thing that's stopping me is that these books are heavily steeped in politics; also, Martin hasa reputation for killing off a lot of characters. It was bad enough when one of my favorite Harry Potter characters died, in Book 6 of the series. It hit me VERY hard! I cried and cried.....

      Anyway......I, too,believe that humanity is meant to spread out into space. In fact, I find it a bit shocking that we're still not on Mars! Kubrick released his great masterpiece, "2001: A Space Odyssey" (the film of Clarke's book masterpiece) in 1968. According to this movie, we were supposed to be heading to Jupiter in the year 2001. I wonder what the HECK happened?! I suppose it was politics that stalled the space program. FREAKING politics!!!!!

      I have read a little of Jung's theories, and I find the one about the collective unconscious, along with the one about the archetypes, very intriguing and fascinating! And i know I'm not the only person in the world who wants to escape this BORING reality! Lol.

      Dreams and the unconscious are definitely related to myths and story-telling. Stephenie Meyer got her inspiration for the Twilight series from a dream. I'm sure she's not the only author who's been inspired in this way, either.

      Thanks for the GREAT comment!! : )


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