Sunday, 2 February 2014

Is this the end of fantasy worlds?

Below is an article that I found which discusses TV, movie and video game adaptations of fantasy novels. Even though I don't agree with everything the author says, I still found the article interesting and thought that some of you might as well so I decided to share it here. Perhaps it can generate a discussion on the issues that the author raises. Please feel free to share this post if you think someone else may like to read it.

C.S. Lewis dedicated his classic fantasy novel “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” to his godchild, Lucy Barfield, but apologized for the fact that she was already too old for fairy tales. “I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books,” Lewis wrote.

Fantasy is long, hard work. God took six days to create the earth, but writers often spend decades building fantasy worlds and years more detailing and expanding them. L. Frank Baum published “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in 1900 and continued exploring the world of Oz in books until his death in 1919. George R.R. Martin began "A Game of Thrones,” the first volume of his “A Song of Ice and Fire” fantasy series, in 1991, published it in 1996, and today, more than twenty years after he started, he is still two books away from finishing the seven-book saga.

Fewer authors are proving up to the hard task of creating fantasy worlds in literature that become cultural touchstones. Virtually all of the most beloved and detailed fantasy worlds–including Lewis Carroll‘s Wonderland, Baum’s Oz, James M. Barrie‘s Neverland, Robert E. Howard‘s Aquilonia, J.R.R. Tolkien‘s Middle-earth, Lewis’s Narnia, Ursula K. Le Guin‘s Earthsea and Martin’s Westeros–are decades old. Even J.K. Rowling‘s boy wizard is not so boyish–the U.S. publication of the first Harry Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,” was back in 1998.

No doubt, after going through this essay, a number of readers will email and tweet notes championing their favorite fantastical works, and scolding me  for not acknowledging this minor classic or that critically-acclaimed novel. (If you’re wondering where “Hunger Games” author Suzanne Collins‘s nation of Panem fits in, it’s a sci-fi dystopia, not a fantasy realm.) Fans may have their favorites, but reasonable readers would agree that no recent fantasy books have had the cultural impact of the works of Tolkien, Lewis and Rowling. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” books were bestsellers before the airing of the HBO series based on them, but there’s little question that the franchise became a pop phenomenon only after television got involved. “It’s at least doubled and maybe even tripled or quadrupled my readership,” Martin once told me. “Books do well, but nothing like the number of people who watch a television show.”

TV, movies, and video games are now the primary purveyors of fantasy worlds. The trailer for the coming fourth season of “Game of Thrones,” which kicks off on April 6, has racked up nearly 17 million views on YouTube so far. Disney’s Animal Kingdom this month broke ground for an expansion of the park inspired by the world created in director James Cameron’s 3-D blockbuster “Avatar.” Given the billions of dollars in sales they’ve collectively pulled in, the settings in the video game franchises Halo, Final Fantasy, and Bioshock are likely more familiar to many teens and tweens than any fantasy worlds from recently-published works of literature.

jrr-tolkienAlthough Tolkien often drew maps and pictures to illustrate the world of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” he believed that images could rob fantasy stories of their magic. You have to wonder what the master would have made of video games. “If a story says, ‘He climbed a hill and saw a river in the valley below,’ the illustrator may catch, or nearly catch, his own vision of such a scene, but every hearer of the words will have his own picture, and it will be made out of all the hills and rivers and dales he has ever seen, but especially out of The Hill, The River, The Valley which were for him the first embodiment of the word,” Tolkien wrote.

In his book “The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales,” child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim agreed with Tolkien, writing, “if we let an illustrator determine our imagination, it becomes less our own, and the story loses much of its personal significance.”

Video games can impress us with detail, movies can stun us with spectacle, and TV shows can inspire loyalty by allowing us to spend time with fascinating characters for seasons on end. But there is something in what book leaves out that pulls readers in. Authors can describe heroes and villains, Misty Mountains and magical lamp-posts, but readers have to do the work of conjuring the pictures in their heads.

Tolkien believed that in creating a fantasy world, man was paying tribute to God, the creator of the universe. He had a term for it: “sub-creation.” When readers explore Middle-earth, they become sub-creators–demi-gods of the page.

Lewis argued that fantasy worlds fill an important human need.  “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world,” he said.

In letters to his son Christopher, Tolkien, a veteran of World War I, wrote of how personal the creation of Middle-earth was to him, and of his struggle to complete his fantasy writing despite the grim reality around him. “Lots of the early parts of which (and the languages) – discarded and absorbed – were done in grimy canteens, at lectures in cold fogs, in huts full of blasphemy and smut, or by candlelight in bell-tents, even some dugouts under shell fire,” the elder Tolkien wrote.

Martin once told me that the roots of his book “A Game of Thrones” stretched back to his days growing up in a blue collar family in Bayonne, N.J.. He would stare out his housing project windows at the water nearby, look at the ships, and imagine the adventures they might be voyaging towards. “My hunger for a bigger world and for travel and experience turned in imaginative directions because there was no reality there,” Martin said.

In his note to his godchild Lucy, Lewis predicted that “some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” As electronic entertainment becomes more dominant, one can only hope that pop culture grows up enough to embrace new literary fantasy worlds once more.


1 comment:

  1. LOL no. Percy Jackson did better without the movies than with them.