The final Harry Potter book sold 11 million copies the very day it was released and the franchise is, according to Wikipedia, worth 24 million dollars. 150 million copies of The Lord of the Rings have been sold, and the film adaptation garnered an astonishing 17 Oscars. But why? What makes fantasy so compelling? What is it about a made-up world that can grip readers’ hearts and minds so fervently? Why does is the thought of a world that operates so unlike our own so appealing?
Perhaps it has something to with an inherent sense that this world isn’t as absolute as it may seem. People have an inborn sense of discontent with the workings and mechanisms of the reality we see and touch every day. It just isn’t solid enough, or deep enough. It isn’t real enough. There’s an unasked question hanging in the air, a plea for understanding, “Where’s the meat? Show me the money, give me the goods.”
Because, well, this vale of tears we inhabit for the short span between womb and tomb just isn’t good enough.
“Give us more,” we say. And so, they try to give us what we want, all the Tolkiens, Rowlings, Paoulinis, Bradleys, and Pullmans of the world, they try to give us more. And we devour their books, tales of impossible adventures in lands far, far away. We put their names at the top of best-seller lists, and stock our bookshelves with their works.
The problem is, once you finish the last chapter and close the book, you’re still right where you were before. And there’s still that longing for something else, something more.
It’s not that we have mistaken fullness with emptiness; no, the emptiness is there and is very real. What we have done is mistaken the ibuprofen for the antibiotics. We manage to mask the symptoms for a short time and claim healing. It’s when the ibuprofen wears off that the issues begin to pile up.
It makes sense, though, if something malfunctions to look at the instruction manual, maybe call the manufacturer. And when we pick up the instruction manual for life, we discover what the manufacturer meant to fill that emptiness.
Not that fantasy is pointless or a mere Band-Aid over a gaping wound. The best fantasy, however, takes us out of this world and in the process peels back the skin of another, a world so vibrant and alive that it steals away our very breath.
So in the words of Jake Chambers, “Go then, there are other worlds than these.” And may your journey through other worlds bring you closer to the reality that lasts for eternity.
Long days and pleasant nights from the Tale-Weaver.