Friday, 28 August 2009
AN IGNORANT TAKE ON FANTASY
Yesterday, I had my first request to write a guest blog. Very flattering (and yet another chance to procrastinate). The site in question is Who Said Pixies Are Rational Creatures? (http://wardancingpixie.blogspot.com/) It’s aimed at writers and readers of fantasy and historical fiction. OK, I’ve written a historical novel, a historical short story, some kids’ stories about a fairy called Stanley who lives under the dripping tap in my bedroom and recently, to my surprise, I had a short story accepted for a fantasy/sci-fi anthology. In other words, while not totally ignorant of the fantasy genre, I know far less about it than the other people who write for and read that particular blog. Sha’el, who extended the invitation to me, gave me carte blanche, even floating the literary and philosophical potential of postings on a picnic or maybe belly button lint, but it’s a fantasy site, so the challenge was to be relevant. And this is the result.
A warning, I have difficulty in taking things seriously. Not those which involve compassion, sympathy, tragedy and all the other personal things, but all those portentous outpourings which fill the news bulletins and wise newspaper columns. My intention is not to judge, undermine, satirise or otherwise criticise the fantasy genre. I have many friends who write romantic novels and, just like crime novelists, they’re constantly having to put up with seemingly innocent observations which suggest that they’re somehow involved in an inferior form of literature. No doubt fantasy writers experience the same thing. I don’t intend to add to it.
All I want to do is try to imagine myself as someone exploring the genre and give myself a brief fantasy experience. I should confess that I did once write a rather nasty erotic fantasy at the request of the editor of an online magazine. It was based on a conversation I had with a friend who, to my surprise, revealed that, for her, pain was an essential part of sexual pleasure. It seems that it makes the gentler bits even more gentle. In other words, it’s the equivalent of banging your head against a wall in order to feel good when you stop doing it.
So, without any real experience of writing fantasy, and with an unfortunate absence of belief in anything supernatural, what can I think of as a potential fantastical subject in my immediate surroundings (which is where all my other writing ideas are conceived)? How would I set about finding a story and the characters who drive it?
I imagine that, first of all, I’d have to suspend my normal beliefs and perceptions and that they’d be replaced by others which I’d have to invent. Fantasy no doubt frees you but it simultaneously creates other restraints arising from its settings and conventions.
My feet are up on the desk and I have the keyboard on my lap. So what if, instead of being aware of ‘me’ in my head, ‘me’ was over there in my feet? How would that alter my perception of the world? Well, for a start, I’d see less of it – no, not because I’d be inside a shoe most of the time, but because my viewpoint would be so low down. On the other hand, I’d be nearer the earth and could hear and feel its rhythms more intensely.
Wait a minute though. I said ‘see’ and ‘hear’. So do my eyes and ears have to be down there too? If so, it means relocating all my main features around my ankles, which leaves me (and everyone else in this brave new world) with a head which now is basically a bone globe with skin and hair stretched over it. Well, at least that would overcome the problem of not being able to put names to faces.
But no, of course, the sense organs would all be left where they are and the brain could still process their information if it was tucked between some metatarsals. And, since the feet are the things which support my physical self and the brain is the basis of my abstract self, I have a convenient parallel which I can exploit to pretend that I’m saying something significant. So this particular distortion of reality begins to open some interesting possibilities. The cutting of toenails could be seen as a lobotomy, bunions could be the outward manifestations of existential angst, and an entire race of creatures thus constituted might be wiped out by a plague of athlete’s foot.
By now you’ll have either stopped reading or realised that I know even less about the subject than I claimed at the start. The truth is that I’m trying too hard. I know really that all I have to do is free the various objects about me and let them be what they want. The paper knife on the desk will shine and glow when I leave this evening and, as the darkness creeps in, it’ll be picked up by the small creature which left it there early this morning. He, she or it will look from the desk’s plateau across the void to the model boats sitting on the little table, bucking and rocking under the cliffs of books. The carved wooden eagle perched among the flowers outside the window will stretch its wings and carry the creature and its sword to the bottom of the garden, where the granite wall will open and show the fires flickering up from its depths onto the undersides of the clouds. And then there’ll be the songs and voices, the cries of prisoners, the gropings of blind, lost sisters, the unearthly growling of the ebony dogs.
And suddenly, I get a sort of intimation of the strength of fantasy. When I draw back from my imaginings, what am I left with? Predictability. Everything around me has a function, a specific, defined purpose. Even me. And it makes no concessions to the magic that makes the grasses and flowers outside appear each spring. The clouds aren’t billowing sails of aerial galleons but mere water vapour. The faint tick of the clock is simply an inevitable, mechanical fact, whereas I now know that, at night, it will separate itself from the clock, become the pulse of something, supply the rhythm of a creature’s advance.
I said I have no beliefs in the supernatural. This isn’t that, it’s natural. We carry all these race memories, dreams, imaginings; we can release people and things from their restricted functions. Maybe fantasy is simply a means of relaxing our grip on experience, a way to deny chronology and inevitability. Maybe it’s just a less uptight reality.
I’ve gone on too long. With any luck, I’ve managed to state the obvious. On the other hand, Sha’el may be making a resolution to be more careful with her invitations. But whether I’ve been talking utter crap or touching on things that might be true, I’ve enjoyed doing it and it’s been a relaxing piece of self-indulgence.
Thanks for reading this far.