I only told you half the story in the previous post.
The other half is our side of things, those fantasy stories us humans read with pleasure, but would never admit to believing in. Yet, belief or no belief, we’ve all tasted something of reality in them, or at least something that should, or will be, reality—if only we live long enough to see it. We give this away when we set a fantastic story down and find that real life has come into sharper focus because of it. Why did that story—that hero, that enemy, that resolution—feel right at home inside me? we ask ourselves.
Or we may not.
We may not because these stories are familiar. It’s easy to blame their “feeling right” on having grown up with them, like tuna on toast—that snack shouldn’t be a thing, but I eat it because I grew up with its fishiness. But even wonderful, non-fishy things can be lost on us when they’re part of a routine or tradition. Tolkien said this about familiar things:
“We say we know them. They have become like things that once attracted us by their glitter, or their color, or their shape, and we laid hands on them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them.”
So we say this is why fantasy stories feel right at home inside us. We say they’re part of our culture, just trinkets in our hoard.
Or we may not.
We may not think about them at all. It may never even occur to us to ask why certain things show up so easily and steadily in our diets, be it tuna on toast or the fairy tale. This, I feel, is a missed adventure. And it wouldn’t have even cost anything.
But if we do ask the question, we may find that when we go back to our books, our experience will be richer. So I propose we recover our curiosity. We’ll find the answer—a glorious answer, I’ll submit. One better than, “It’s part of our culture” which often leads to something even worse, like, “We’re just programmed to like it,” which, in its darkest depths turns into, “So it means nothing.”
Here’s the truth: it does mean something. The fairy story is close, closer than you realize. Dragons and men have a peculiar relationship; both creatures stand on one side of the mirror, trying to figure out if their movements are their own or a reflection of the other. Whichever it is, we both have a lot to learn by studying the otherworldly faces opposite us. I believe the fantasy story may help us with this study. As Tolkien went on to say,
“Creative fantasy… may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like caged birds. The gems turn into flowers or flames, and you will be warned that all you had (or knew) was dangerous and potent, not effectively chained, free and wild; no more yours than they were you.”
So lets read our fairy tales and ask our questions. The dragons already are (and I’m afraid they’re putting us to shame).
What do you think? Have you ever felt that a story, or even a sentence in a story, was meant just for you?