Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Power of Utopias/The Power of Fantasies



The power of books has diminished. Once, they could move the world, but I think now an author is doing well if she or he moves a few copies – and manages to penetrate the fug of modern life in their readers’ minds at the same time.

To tell a good story, to entertain is all very worthy but good books should always do more. They don’t need to preach, but they should engage with greater principles, or at the very least, continue a dialogue that stretches back to (and in the case of fantasy I’d argue, even before) the written word.

Myth, dream, hopes, fears, the irrational, and the fantastical can all be powerful tools in the hands of a skilled writer. From the Greek dramatists to the likes of Borges and Calvino, the inventive retelling of our story, the human one, is important. What we tell each other even if outwardly just to entertain, tells us in turn much about who we are, who we’ve been, and where we are going. SF doesn’t have a monopoly on the future, just as literary fiction doesn’t hold the rights to telling meaningful stories about the past/present. Good fantasy can blend in elements of all three.

It can also allow us to play, without the restraints of a rational, understood world limiting those horizons. Play in writing as in life, is important, both as a liberator and a goad to inspire creativity. When well used, it can free us from the self-applied shackles that day to day routines can often forge. Set alongside humour, it can be not just a tool to elevate a story, but a balm for the weary mind.

All worthwhile things in my opinion. This is not to say that novels can’t still be important. And there's a fair point raised regarding their potential impact when you consider works of non-fiction.

But compare our present age to those antiquated years when few people had any books in their possession, or when a book could break entirely new religious/cultural/philosophical ground, and was often couched as fiction rather than a strict work of didaction for this very reason. I think the age of this sort of impact has passed, or at least diminished, the novel’s previous role in this regard co-opted by other more immediate forms of media. Or perhaps it is simply harder to see, against the huge background of chatter created by an increasingly literate society.

This is not a bad thing, just a change. The novel survives, even if its role is harder now to pinpoint.

E.

1 comment:

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