I mentioned a few days ago that I’m reading From Homer to Harry Potter, which I neglected to mention before is written by Matthew Dickerson and David O’Hara, and which looks at the tradition and importance of myth, legend, fairy tales, fantasy, whatever you want to call all of it.
I’ve only read about 65 pages (in part because I keep putting the book down to process everything they’re saying) but already there is so much that I find both relevant and… not so much enlightening as seeming to put into words the things I have always felt and thought about fantasy stories. I keep telling myself I’m going to put together a ‘real’ post about all of this, but so far I haven’t had time, so perhaps I’ll turn it into a little series of bits and pieces.
So, for today I’ll start with a quote from philosopher Peter Kreeft, as quoted by Dickerson and O’Hara:
Death is the most natural thing in the world; why do we find it unnatural? … We complain about death and time…. There is never enough time. Time makes being into non-being. Time is a river that takes everything it brings: nations, civilizations, art, science, culture, plants, animals, our own bodies, the very stars–nothing stands outside the cosmic stream rushing headlong into the sea of death. Or does it? Something in us seems to stand outside it, for something in us protests this “nature” and asks: Is that all there is? We find this natural situation “vanity” ["meaningless"]: empty, frustrating, wretched, unhappy. Our nature contradicts nature.
As humans we stand with one foot rather literally in the mortal stew of time and decay and everything else, and yet there is some part of us that sees it as unnatural, as wrong, and struggles against it. Some part of us is eternal.
And, after quite a bit of discussion and inclusion of ideas from Tolkien, Lewis, and other luminaries, the two authors make this statement:
If man is indeed the spiritual animal, the creature who lives at once both in the world of the seen [mortal] and the unseen [eternal], then those stories that take place in both worlds–that is, on the borders of Faerie–will be far more relevant than stories that take place entirely in one world to the exclusion of the other.
It is after reading passages like these that I feel like jumping up and down and cheering. This is why I read fantasy. These stories touch on truths that illuminate and inform my everyday life, because I do not live simply in the material world. No other genre speaks so clearly to my walk-on-the-boundary life.