When Imaginations (Fail to) Run Wild


POLL!

Who here loves Lord of the Rings? Or Redwall? The Chronicles of Narnia? 

I'll wait while you leave your vote in the comments below.


True confession?

I don't love any of those -- or any of fantasy-esque books -- at all. Maybe I can give you A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. Maybe . . . on a good day.

My husband, on the other hand, has always loved that genre of books. He gets lost in them more easily than I get lost without Google Maps in a big city.

And that is very easily.

We tried to figure this out the other day -- why it is that I'm an English major who wrote and edited words for 10 years but who can't get behind books that aren't "believable."

Trees don't walk. Beavers don't talk.

And there's no such thing as an elven language. (Please don't send me hate mail, LOTR people.)

I'm contending that my husband loves that style of book because it follows the quest genre of literature -- the hero who's been displaced and has to contend against hardships and difficulties to find his way back home -- and that that style of writing could potentially resonate better with men because they are problem solvers and fixers who overcome challenges and enjoy it.

The farmer says, "No dice."

Maybe it's because I've been writing for too long and I know the tricks too well. Or perhaps it's because I'm just too tightly wound and can't loosen up enough to let my imagination work in a book of that style. I've been reading biographies and autobiographies and history books since I graduated from college . . . because they are (mostly) factual enough to be believable.

My husband has too, but he also loves to read books that conjure up ideas and images and his imagination, and I'm over in the corner saying, "But it's not real. That's just a literary device meant to draw you in! And how does that split infinitive not drive you nuts? And he just used the same verb three sentences in a row! Mix it up, man!"

#killjoy

So I'm looking for help. How does an adult learn willful suspension of disbelief? I want to like that style. I'm just, well, failing at it.

Do I need to try the audio version of one of these books? Stop being so analytical? Hope that my enjoyment of this genre develops as I read these books to my kids?

Please advise, rebuke, encourage. Whatever it takes. I'm listening!

(And reading . . . just not the classics apparently. So please send help.)

21 comments:

  1. Begin with the audio version of The Hobbit. It is delightful. I was not a fan in junior high but I am now. Try it! I double dare you. U
    But it has to be this guy: Inglis
    https://mobile.audible.com/pd/Classics/The-Hobbit-Audiobook/B0099RKI5W?ref=a_search_c3_lProduct_1_2&pf_rd_p=e81b7c27-6880-467a-b5a7-13cef5d729fe&pf_rd_r=TF6F1KEF187TSGKTBDMT&

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    1. Lauren was just saying today to try the audio version. It's unanimous! Thank you. :)

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  2. Why do you have to? You’re you, and he’s him, and, if you were both the same, one of you would be unnecessary. So, riddle me this. Why do you HAVE to like them?

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    1. Very true! Perhaps I should rephrase: I don't HAVE to like them, but I would like to . . . both because I feel like I'm missing out and because I want my kids to enjoy them when they are older as well . . . without my grumbling to myself in the corner that it's all a big lie. :)

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    2. OK, then, maybe its not a matter of liking them, but of tolerating them. Kind of like some people (I don!t) do with Santa Claus. Let the kids have the magic, and that would probably require some pre-reading for you. Go at it from the theological standpoint; oh, my, the stuff you'll see in those! When I skipped away from church during college, I always had a set of Narnia on my bookshelf. Lewis helped keep me from going too far. I should tell you, though; I LOVE me some fantasy!

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  3. I'm with Melody. We don't do a lot of reading other than to the kids, so I will have to use a TV/movies illustration. My hubby loves Star Wars. I fell asleep every time I tried to watch them. Yawn. I love watching "Little House on the Prairie." Him? No so much. So we compromise. We have found common ground with "Big Bang Theory" and superhero movies. Maybe, if you all are wanting to have books in common, you could find a genre that excites you both. I bet you can. Then you don't have to force yourself to like something you simply don't...and neither does he and you can appreciate what you have shared love of. Just an idea.

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  4. Oh, sweet relief! I thought I was the only human with a pulse who slogged through those books instead of enjoying them! I dutifully read them as my husband really enjoys them, but seriously, I kept thinking the characters should get a move on and stop dillydallying with hairy toes (ewwww!ewewew!) and rings and such. And, yes, I understand the point of C.S. Lewis' allegories. Adriane, I agree with your sensibilities. I love biographies, autobiographies, how-to books, books on sound theology (read:Lutheran), and most of all, humorous fiction. But fantasy? Science fiction? Nah...if I wanted contrived, fake drama, I'd go back to high school.

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  5. Both Lewis and Tolkien wrote apologias addressing readers' reticence toward reading fantasy. If you haven't done so, look up Lewis' "On Stories," "On Other Worlds," and "Three Ways of Writing for Children" as well as Tolkien's "On Fairy Stories," available here: http://brainstorm-services.com/wcu-2004/fairystories-tolkien.pdf. I hope you'll revisit this topic soon.

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    1. I just starting The Hobbit and On Fairy Stories. Thank you for the recommendation! I'll report back...

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  6. There were books that I never would have thought to pick up (especially in the fantasy genre) until I had children to read them to/with. I'll be willing to bet that sharing them with your kiddos will enable you to relax into them and see them through their fresh imaginations. I don't think I would have enjoyed LotR, George Macdonald or any other fantasy books on my own nearly as much as I enjoyed them with my kids. And, you can't beat a well-read audio book.

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    1. Exactly! My children are the reason I want to dive into them. I want my kids to be able to hear them read or read them themselves without my eye-rolling-that-can't-be-true bias. :)

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  7. Wise, genuine human beings go through life with "Why?" and "What if?" as the constant refrain of their mind's internal dialogue. Theology--the Queen of Sciences--helps us ask and answer these questions, but so do many other disciplines. I love theoretical physics for this same reason, and I by-and-large dislike sociology, but I love when it makes me think about those central questions of humanity.

    Fantasy is one of those avenues to the "Why?" and "What if?" questions, and you can get through life just fine by exploring only the other avenues. However, the reason I love fantasy (and hope you will learn to love it, too!) is that by plunging us into unreality, it somehow, almost magically, works to deepen our understanding of reality. But more than that, while it opens our eyes to those deep truths, it also opens our eyes to beauty and goodness in brilliant, amazing, unreal ways that give us vision for those things in the real world around us.

    Along with seconding the recommendations for reading Tolkien's "On Fairy Stories," I would add a recommendation for a much older advocate for the value of fiction: Philip Sidney's "The Defense of Poesy."

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    1. I remember reading "The Defense of Poesy" in college! That's a good one to revisit.

      And thank you for your encouragement and insight that this type of literature helps us better understand what it means to be human. It's almost like you're making the same argument for reading this as my husband is. :)
      PS Can we start a Facebook book club for confessional Lutheran ladies so we can discuss books we're reading? It's lonely out here in the middle of nowhere!

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  8. I'm with you. I hated The Hobbit and haven't even bothered with LOTR. I enjoyed Narnia as a child, but I do not dig sic-fi or fantasy at all. My husband loves it. He introduced my sons to it, and they love, love, love it. And I love to see them excited about reading it. That doesn't mean I feel the need to read it.

    On a related note, I hate grown-up fiction. It's way too stressful for me. I like kids' books. For years I would walk through the grown-up books in the library, looking at the backs of books and putting them back on the shelves before I'd wander into the kids' section to pick up fiction. Finally, I just accept that I have no interest in adult fiction, and I stopped apologizing for my preference.

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    1. Grown-up fiction is usually so poorly done. I'm with you on the blegh factor there!

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  9. C. S. Lewis said (and I paraphrase) that he, after putting down a fantasy novel or piece of enchanting poetry, found out that the qualities he had found most captivating in the imaginary world of the story turned out to be qualities of our world as well, once his imagination had been awakened to grasp them. Assuming Lewis was not alone in his experience, it might be that fantasy novels, while being completely imaginary on the surface level (trees don't walk and beavers don't talk), have a lot of 'truth' weaved into the story. If our hearts and minds (either out of cynicism, ignorance or whatever) are otherwise incapable to meditate on such things, it might actually be more easily accomplished if we do so through an imaginative story. When the setting of the story is clearly fantastic, it invites us open up to stranger things in the story, and that way also to the stranger 'truths' the story tries to communicate. The odder the setting is, the less your mind will try to force the story line to 'fit' with how you think things must be. And hence the fantastic story is able to reach deeper into your imagination and shake it a little bit more than a conventional, more realistic story might.

    But of course you wanted to know how you could enjoy them, not what the possible value of them might be? I guess what is said above might still be applied. Reading stories as allegories you need to solve sure kills the joy, that's true - but you could still try to approach the story with the question of "what is the author trying to really tell us by these events?" Looking past walking trees and talking beavers to the more fundamental questions of meaning and value I guess.

    Fantasy and sci-fi (and to some extent horror as well) are interesting genres because they allow the writer to make almost any kind of setting for the story. Which also means that the setting, if the author is good, is deliberately formed to be something. A writer of an ordinary historical novel is bound to what actually took place in history. The writer of a fantasy novel can alter the setting as much as they please, but then of course the question is "why?" What is the author trying to tell through the choice of the setting? The stage itself become a character in the play, so to say.

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    1. That's a point I hadn't considered: that talking beavers and walking trees actually allow the mind to work less at making them "realistic" or "normal" because they seem so far out in left field. Actually, as I consider that more, that's quite helpful. Thank you!

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  10. There is no accounting for taste. I agree that you don't have to like them, but if you want to bond with your husband over a discussion of these sorts of books, why not think of them as long-form poetry? Or apocalyptic literature (nothing in Tolkien of Lewis is weirder than Revelation)? Or think about the fact that no book records history in a purely realistic way. Biographies and histories are written from an angle. Fantasy is just a much more imaginative angle.

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    1. Point well taken on Revelation. I hadn't thought of it in those terms. See? Now we're getting somewhere!

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