As humans have increasingly become entrenched in the miasma of science and realism, we have forgotten how we may be whimsical, lighthearted, and explorative. Gone are the days of running around and letting your imagination take you away to somewhere unseen even by the person standing two feet from you. Today we are told we must have our two feet, as well as our heads, planted firmly in the real world — where else could they possibly go?
In his essay “On Fairy Stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien laments that we have removed fairy tales from adult life and adult criticism. Originally, these stories were enjoyed just as much if not more by adults as well as children. But, as Tolkien points out, we have left them in our nursery rooms and — like the furniture and toys which populate those rooms — they have become worn down, tattered, and covered in post-modern slobber.
Many children’s books today are thinly-veiled attempts to establish values the author deems necessary for decency in modern life. Some are even less moral than this, and aim only to teach basic grammatical skills without any of the dressing of true storytelling. Real fairy tales have been forgotten or watered down for our children because they have been relegated just to children.
The decline of robust, whimsical fairy tails has resulted in a loss of imagination. Rather than pretending that there is a pirate ship in the backyard, children today are plopped in front of the TV as they play videogames or watch a show in order to vent these imaginative pressures.
Our institutions seem to join in suppressing imagination as well. In 2015, a boy in Texas was suspended for bringing his “one ring” to school. School officials took it to be a threat when the boy told a fellow student that he could make them disappear by using the ring. While this story is amusing, it points to a deeper issue that is endemic in the school system today.
Children are not supported in their chasing of fairytales in everyday life. Instead, they are told only to accept what is “real.” Modern society is increasingly inclined to suppose that all choices and ideas are little more than physical phenomena.
This rejection of fantasy also has terrible repercussions when children enter adulthood. Now, we dream when we are old, irresponsibly escaping into our fantasies at an age when we should be engaging with reality. When adults escape into these dreams, with no experience of traveling into fantasy worlds, we assume these fantasies to be closer to the truth than actual reality.
We must become experienced travelers in the land of fantasy when we are young, otherwise we run the risk of losing ourselves in it with no hope of finding our way back out when we are old. Sadly, today’s adults are unable to recognize fantasy when they see it.
The disbelief in disbelief has led to the utter acceptance of fantastical ideas as reality because, after all, one’s fantasies cannot be anything but chemical reactions produced by the brain. In Canada, a 52-year-old man, Stefonknee Wolscht, left his family of a wife and seven children in order to pursue his supposed true identity as a six-year-old girl.
“I can’t deny I was married,” Wolscht said. “I can’t deny I have children, but I’ve moved forward now and I’ve gone back to being a child. I don’t want to be an adult right now.” Wolscht is not living in reality. Rather, he is unable to escape the fantasy which he has created for himself.
Because we have been trained as a society to believe in reality only, we are unable to separate fact from fantasy. We have found ourselves in a strange land indeed, where a grown man can be a young girl, a woman can “marry” the Berlin Wall, and where things are only as real as we imagine them to be (or not to be). Is it any surprise that our culture is well-conditioned for “alternative facts” and “fake news?”
Tolkien’s concept of True Fantasy has been discarded, and False Reality has taken its place. If we want our culture to value reality, fantasy must be recognized and resurrected. To end this blog, I think Tolkien summarized the importance of fantasy and imagination best:
“Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason… On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth, then Fantasy would languish until they were cured. If they ever get into that state, Fantasy will perish, and become Morbid Delusion.”