Col Buchanan on escapism

Col Buchanan, author of Farlander (Canada, USA, Europe), wrote an interesting article on escapism for tor.com. As you know, I disagree with M. John Harrison's opinion of this particular facet of any SFF work, so I'm with Buchanan regarding this issue. Here's an extract:

Escapism is bad for you. It’s unhealthy and immature and leads to a lack of bathing.

I’m fairly certain you’ve come across this particular sentiment before, maybe not the bathing part, but the rest of it. Hell, maybe even the bathing part too. People who hold this viewpoint tend to look poorly upon the imagined realms of fantasy and SF—and even more so in regards to their fans. Yes—because we’d rather poke a stick at the human condition from the vantage of Mars or Westeros than from the kitchen sink, because we like to cast our imaginations as far as we can, because we like to go wow along the way, we’re all somehow squandering our precious time on this Earth.

My response to this is usually to acknowledge the most obvious point first—that it’s a lot of fun losing yourself for a while in a fantasy setting. Yet escapism, for me, means a great deal more than this. In truth, we don’t always find ourselves in circumstances of our own making. And trying to escape from bad circumstances, whether inwardly or outwardly, is a perfectly human reaction
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And he concludes with a great quote from J. R. R. Tolkien:

“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape? … If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”

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6 commentaires:

Dhoizner said...

I think you meant J.R.R. Tolkien, Pat.

Wise Bass said...

I've never understood the animosity to escapism as well. Why shouldn't we imagine and explore fantasies and stories?

It's not like escapism is confined to speculative fiction, either. I'd wager most people fantasize, even if it's over stuff like "what if I hooked up with that girl?" or "what if I made the greatest presentation ever at work?".

Jebus said...

Without the escapism of books, movies, TV and beer I'd have necked myself a long time ago - whether this is a good or bad thing, the world has yet to decide.

Anonymous said...

I'd say there are different meanings of escapism. One of them has always been an integral part to art, which is about letting your thoughts run free from restraining circumstances, the other is about locking you away in an artificial occupation devoid of meaning and value (like a Facebook game, perhaps).
So when there is the accusation of escapism in the case of genre, it's about stupidity, basically.

Anonymous said...

Although to be fair, there can be also the case of fleeing "restraining circumstances" in a fantasy of lies. An extreme example would be some totalitarian ideology, a milder example would be representing life in a naive way, which can be harmful in the long run, if it's taken too literally. I guess that's mostly the point of polemically criticising the fantasy genre (or Tolkien), although I would argue it's often a reduction.

Mithrennaith said...

The quote is not from J.R.R. Tolkien but from Ursula Le Guin. In the first half she is paraphrasing what Tolkien said in ‘On Fairy Stories’, but the second half is her own expansion of that. It got attributed to Tolkien through sloppy quoting at several removes.