Imagination

“My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world and exiles me from it.”

~Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin (Photo credit: Wikipedia. Photo by “Hajor”, from Meet-the-author Q&A session; Bookworks bookstore, Albuquerque, NM, USA; July 2004.)

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Reconciling the Fantastic and the Literary

Centuries ago, as it is said, man looked at the world around him, and wondered. The why of existence captivated him, and so did its purpose. The result? He made up stories to explain it. Gave new reasons to old sights.

Then came science, reason, cultural and sociological evolution. Logic worked its way into mankind, and the world became less mysterious—its wonders suddenly had explanations, purposes that didn’t end in men hurling lightning bolts from the clouds (though I think that old way’s better. Cooler, at the least). Mankind grew up. What’s more, in growing up, it struggled to capture pieces of the world around it, and put less and less stock in notion of fancy. That realm, they left to children.

An iconic image for us all, to be sure...

No one can deny it fits nicely into the child’s realm. Such fantasy, such imagination—it cultivates and reorganizes the child’s dreams, the way they interact with the reality around them. Sounds good, right? Nice and simple? Yet the funny part is, as much as the world has tried to turn its back on all things fantastic, the fact is, children aren’t the only ones mired in imagination. Though man has grown up, fantasy still has a key place in the psyche—it is engrained in the cultural fault lines of our society, though the form may change in time.

Fantasy captures and captivates that part of us that longs for an escape from the reasonable, from the knowledgeable details of everyday life. If allows us to ask the great “what-ifs,” and break the boundaries the universe itself has deigned to slap on our weary bones. We enjoy the limitless complexity. Reality remains, in truth, a place contrary to our desires of self-importance. It has this habit of beating us down for thinking as such. Yet in fantasy, we meet characters who truly are important—who are key to the salvation of people, worlds, even universes, and we lose ourselves in them. It gives us a glimpse of grounding, and focus, that many of us will never know.

Yes, that’s right, I said fantasy grounds. It may let us fly to the boundless ends of the universe, but by god, it grounds us in questions.

Fellow fantasy author R. Scott Bakker once wrote that epic fantasy “possesses tremendous social and cultural significance, recording, at almost every turn, the antagonism between modernity and the human soul.” I don’t doubt it. In fact, I embrace that view. Many of us long for something different, an escape from the crushing reality of the modern world. We know our history, and to an extent, we know our future. Yet we can dream. We like to posit new possibilities, however unlikely. We love to dream up all the ways things could be different, even if we know they can’t, because it helps us cope.

But wait! Surely I’ve just provided ample reasoning and evidence for critics’ often uttered denunciation of this genre as mere escapism. Not so, dear fellows. This isn’t myth. These aren’t the old legends our ancestors told themselves to help the world make sense. We know fantasy fiction is just that—fiction. Hell, it’s more fictional than fiction. Fiction takes place in our own cities, our own homes. Fantasy takes place in realms and lands that never could have been.

One of Bakker's gems.

What’s more, it helps us to understand our world, and our relation to it. Yes, I’ll say it again—fantasy helps us to understand reality. By seeing what could not be, we are given insight into our own world. We look at it and begin to decipher just why it would not work, fascinating as it may be. We think of the logic behind magic, for example, how it works in the framework of the presented world, and inevitably find ourselves reclining on the thought of why it doesn’t work in our own.

Too often, I’ve heard people claim that fantasy offers nothing to the world. It’s simply not true. It helps us think. It broadens the mind beyond boundaries modernity ingrains into us. In a way, it sets us free.

…though I must admit, the world would be so much more exciting if we did have a touch of magic to brighten up the day. Make that noisy neighbor a newt for an hour or two? Yes, please.

Why, that’s probably why the genre sells so well. Crafty devils, we.

One more night

Jacob's Dream, by Adam Elsheimer. Image care of Wikimedia Commons.

Child wakes

the deep dark drink

Eternity

lost somewhere between

the closet and the sheets,

mother’s cries no assurance

to the ones that can still see.

Only bears might be knights

to ward reality another night;

only dolls might soothe the tears

of time’s inevitable drum.

One more night, they cry,

and the pillow does oblige.

* After the theme of imagination I laid out yesterday, I thought it only appropriate to offer up a poem to it too. It is a precious gift, mankind was given. A tragic fact that it is too often lost as the child drifts into adulthood…

Exploring the Imagination

The Power of Imagination. Image by DP Studios and Wallpapers on Web.

What is a writer without imagination? It is the font of creativity, the well-spring of art that keeps us moving in a dry, dry world. Reality may lend forms to what we drink, but the imagination – the imagination breathes detail into those shapes. As Emily Dickinson once wrote, “The Possible’s slow fuse is lit by the imagination.” Such a beautiful thing to comprehend.

Which is why I am always curious when a head cocks at the sound of what I do. I write, I say, and I see the eyebrow arch. I enjoy the fantastic. Fiction. Fantasy. Their heads shake and I hear the words, “Why not write something real? Something substantial? Non-fiction is the bread and butter…” And I smile, just a bit, at the concept. They scorn it because of the lack of “real value” to the world. Real value? My goodness, how do we even begin to define…is not the power of the human imagination, the power to showcase how far that human thought can reach, not worth documentation? Every bit of writing employs imagination, to an extent. Fiction or non-fiction – those are merely scales of extent.

Even non-fiction has details we fill in. Auto-biographies, narrated years after the fact, might embellish a detail for the storytelling, reflect on events long gone and add a line, here or there, that prod at the curiosities of our own imagination. They pursue thought, not merely deeds.

As I get closer to releasing my first fantasy novel, though, it is a curious thing to reflect on – this concept of imagination, and where it stands in our society. So much fiction,  fantasy, sci-fi, and what you will flood the market, yet all too often you hear those calls for structure, for the sensible, for the restriction of the imaginative from sources populating that same reality. The disconnect astounds me.

Henry David Thoreau. Image care of Wikimedia Commons.

But that leads me to a few new quotes for this week, revolving around that sense of the imagination, and the creativity it walks with hand-in-hand:

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.  Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.  Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”
~Theodore Geisel

“They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea.” 
~Francis Bacon

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” 
~Henry David Thoreau

Death of a Muse

Tender touches

twilight now

when you would walk through moon beams

silver youth, in my mind,

your long-tossed hair that fleeting glimpse

unworthy hands would never know.

A dream-wrought kiss

for all sensation’s cheer—

a note to set the pen to dance

beneath your light.

What is your name?

Reality, but a longing and a life

no bearing on the yearning—

the dreamer’s supple realm.

A thousand ships would sail for you,

in mind, while your eyes turned—

it wasn’t till the flesh took my hand,

crowned in cruel identity

cast me out to sea

that all those ships were set to burning.

* My latest contribution to One Shot Poetry Wednesday. This piece was essentially the second part to the post I made yesterday, on muses and their very real, physical departure, in the form of people. Yesterday I gave other people’s thoughts on muses, but today I put forth my own thoughts on the muse’s withdrawal. For those with a physical embodiment to their own creative drive…

Undercover

Breathe light.

The moment the

candle flickers to dark

no covers keep the monsters back–

life holds.

* My latest contribution to the wonderful One Shot Poetry Wednesdays! The style used here is known as Cinquain, a five-line stanza form containing twenty-two syllables, in the sequence: 2, 4, 6, 8, 2. Notice I’ve been on a bit of a Cinquain trip lately? So have I. It happens. I’ve been form-napped.