Fantasy is just escapism. A bolt-hole for woolly thinkers unable to live in the modern world. That line of thought pops up as regular as dysentery on an unlicensed Nile cruise. It’s usually either journalists, or science fiction readers (or writers) who like stories about Big Machines with no discernible human dimension.
A history lesson: in the pre-modern world, Plato defined two complementary ways of reaching the truth. Logos – from which we get ‘logic’ – was all about viewing the wider world outside of our bodies. Mythos – from which we get ‘mythology’- was the mapping of the inner world inside our head. SF is the fiction of logos. Fantasy is the fiction of mythos. It was an incisive, neatly-balanced philosophy of everything, that worked perfectly well until the Age of Reason.
In our society, logos is given more weight. Wrongly, I believe. There’s a huge and distasteful arrogance to some of the big voices in science that reminds me of Tory MPs in the eighties when they thought Thatcherism was the only game in town, in perpetuity. Or to flip the political coin, of Arthur Scargill, the old leader of the National Union of Miners who led a self-destructive strike that was instrumental in wrecking the labour movement and damaging leftist politics in the UK for a decade (some would say much, much longer). There was the same look of bafflement on Scargill’s face as the strike imploded that you see on some scientists-spokespeople when they try to comprehend why a big chunk of the world doesn’t buy into the scientific agenda. Scargill – pure ego with a Yorkshire accent – couldn’t understand why a significant proportion of the workforce didn’t follow him when he said jump. He knew the principles of the strike were right, but in his arrogance he thought it unnecessary to win the hearts and minds first before he started trying to march people up and down the hill.
Scientists (and I’m using a useless generic term here) are so secure in the tenets of the Age of Reason and basic scientific principles that they can’t understand why many people don’t buy into it. And so they spit and stamp and flounce, like Richard Dawkins does from time to time, and alienate even more people. And in that arrogance, too many are completely derogatory of the power of mythos even today.
Their position, of course, is in complete defiance of history. (In my more cynical moments, I think this is because history can’t be replicated in a lab. But it seems to me that too many of a scientific bent have a tenuous grasp on, shall we say, the ‘lessons’ of history, as opposed to the nuts and bolts of dates and events.)
For most people, mythos is still just as important as logos. They need to map out their inner world more than they need to know about, say, DNA or how quickly, or not, the universe is expanding. They need to understand their dreams, and those terrible motivations that they can’t control. They need to understand what drives politicians to begin a war that few wanted, or why child abusers do what they do, or why people fall in love, and why that love goes. In short, they need to understand about people.
And for me that’s what fantasy does. It deals with hugely affecting symbols and archetypes that still drive our psyche today. I started writing a fantasy sequence about the return of the Celtic gods to our modern world, because I wanted to see if these archetypes could still affect people today in the same way that they affected our ancestors. Because these gods – these archetypes – are the secret language of our unconscious. Images of them, used in the right way, can move us to tears or laughter or sexual arousal in ways our modern minds can’t grasp because they speak directly to the core programming of our system.
If the mail I get from readers is anything to go by, those archetypes still do affect people just as strongly today – infecting dreams, slipping into the day-to-day world by changing behaviour, and therefore affecting logos. Mythos and logos, then, inextricably linked.
I write fantasy, therefore, because I’m interested in people and how they interact with the world around us, not because I want to run away from that world. But I still can’t get through ten pages of The Silmarillion.