A Willing Suspension of Disbelief-
Are you willing to believe?
Many of the questions posted to the class Fantasy Fiction blog talk about differences between the “real” world and the fantasy worlds. Some of these questions include:
“Do the best works of fantasy need their own universes or can great works take place in the world we know?”
This then brings us to ask the questions of whether these fantasy worlds are “just literary devices, or whether they are intended to be believed as truth”.
Then we must ask if these works of fantasy should even be “read and analyzed for their symbolism and literary devices”.
If one decides to read works of fantasy fiction and apply lenses, devices, symbolism and analogies to them one must then as if these works should be read with the fantasy worlds as a “commentary on the real world”, and if the time period and culture in which the author wrote these stories in needs to be taken into account.
The answers to these questions are going to rely on individual and very personal readings of each text. Who are we as readers to decide what is real or what the author’s intentions were? One of the greatest aspects of fantasy fiction to many readers is the ability to escape from the “real” world and travel into the fantasy world. What is important to notice however is that this escapism doesn’t make the fantasy worlds any less "real" than the real world. What does matter is that there is a base of a real world from which to escape from.
In Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making September leaves the very real land of Omaha and enters Fairyland without even a glance back at first. In the many Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling Harry must return to the “Muggle” (real) world every year. In C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia the very entrance to Narnia is through a wardrobe in a house that is in the real world. Whether or not the worlds of Fairyland, Narnia or Hogwarts are real the adventures within them and the stories they create would not exist without a real world to escape from and come back to. One cannot always decide whether or not these fantasy worlds are to be taken as truth, but it is certain that the real world is what allows them to exist.
As for reading works of fantasy to draw parallels and make connections to the real world that is very subjective, but no matter what one chooses to believe, the fantasy world does not need to be taken as truth or even be taken as a work to make commentary on the real world in order to have meaning. The witches in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making point out strong lessons in the world that are neither symbolic nor allusive, but are merely just true, no matter what world one applies them to. The witches inform September that “The future is a messy, motley business” and that they “have to dress well, or the future will not take us seriously” (Valente 31). This is true whether or not one chooses to believe in fantasy worlds.
As for the time period and direct correlations between the real worlds and the fantasy worlds, that decision is left more to the reader. It does not matter if the author intended any of these novels to draw parallels between the wars during which they were written. What matters is whether or not the reader is going to dive into the stories with a willing suspension of disbelief.
For readers who read to escape, the answer is simple. I’m going to cross through the wardrobe into Narnia to hang out with my animal friends and do good for the world, and I still believe that my mother intercepted my owl and burned my acceptance letter from Hogwarts. Fantasy fiction reading isn’t so much about whether these fantasy worlds actually exist or whether or not they are supposed to represent the real world. Fantasy fiction depends on whether or not you are willing to believe.
Lewis, C. S. The Chronicals of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Hollywood, CA: Walt Disney Studios and Walden Media, 2006. Print.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Harry Potter. NY: Listening Library, 1999. Print.
Valente, Catherynne M. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2011. Print.