Truth in Fantasy

The Bard Would Applaud Buffy

Some people have trouble with fantasy as great drama. I’ve never understood why. Realism in art does not necessarily mean a kind of dutiful depiction of the mundane, the kitchen details of everyday life.  It can be that and be great art (Ibsen); but the kind of realism that really matters is psychological, the realism of protagonists growing and changing, living, laughing, suffering and dying through the arc of a story that resonates — a story that is a true journey in the sense that character is revealed through meaningful action, through tough choices made and the fateful consequences that flow therefrom. If there is fidelity to this, then the creation of worlds that are not strictly our world can enhance drama, provide more scope for the creation of heroes and villains, noble quests and fated journeys that highlight the essential moral and psychological dilemmas intrinsic to the human condition. Shakespeare’s plays are full of fantastical elements from witches cauldrons to dancing fairies — are they any less “real” for that?  King Lear is real because his creator was both the greatest poet and the greatest psychologist who ever lived.

And there is another thing. It has always seemed to me that our most profound stories reach back to the mythic and ritualistic elements of early human communal life — those deep, dark shared experiences of mystery and awe and divinity and fear that Jung thought buried in our collective unconscious.  Myth and ritual are our earliest efforts to deal with the real, and fantasy at its highest level can more easily connect with this than say a novel by Jane Austen great as that novel may be for other reasons.  

So give Lord of the Rings a try, willingly suspend your sense of what makes the real, real. Immerse yourself in Buffy the Vampire and seize the profound psychological realism found therein.