“Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.”
Spending too much time trying to avoid being even remotely useful or productive can sometimes have surprising ancillary benefits. Like the times, when somewhere in the middle of the countless number of hours you have spent in front of the television or your laptop watching fantasy and sci-fi shows and movies of all types and tenors (and timelines, if you believe in reruns and marathons), you suddenly have a valuable epiphany.
Fantasy is fundamentally ridiculous. It thrives in the element of incredulity and impossibility. Objectively, there is no reason why it should appeal to anyone above the age of 10; no reason why wands, wizards, magical realms, superheroes with or without visible underwear, dystopian future and weird scientific inventions should make sense to anyone who prides himself or herself in being a sensible adult. But we just have to look at the explosion of fantasy and sci fi movies and shows (and Frozen) over the last few years to conclude that either sensible adults are in a disturbingly short supply or there is something else going on here. Since I count myself among the sensible adults who shall be more than happy to spend the majority of their day bingeing on wizards, time travelers and superheroes trying to save the world, I am inclined to believe the latter. And this where my epiphany comes into picture and the resulting list of perfectly rational and justifiable reasons as to why everyone loves a good fantasy, whether they admit it out aloud or not.
1. Once in a while (or a lot often, depending on how much you hate your real life on a scale of 1 to 10) everyone needs to escape their reality. And good old fantasy is your best and the cheapest bet. Unless of course you own a time/dimension travel portal or a personal spaceship that can transport you to Mars. Fantasy is escapism in motion. It is the perfect gateway that lets us escape our miserable little lives, however temporarily. It takes us into the worlds where the most impending catastrophe in life is the next alien invasion, not the looming deadline hanging over our head like a death sentence; where the villain that needs to be overcome has slits for eyes and definitely does not remind us of the break up we are trying to get over; where every problem might not have an easy solution, but it does have a magical (wizardy, scientific or superheroic kind, depending on your preference) one.
2. Which brings us to the second item on this list. Magic. Including the kind that involves fancy gadgets, superpowers and spaceships. Everyone loves magic. Everyone wants a little magic in their lives. It is the reason why fairytales exist. It is the reason why we wanted Santa Claus to be real when we were kids. It is a primitive instinct which is usually brutally crushed by the onslaught of adulthood and the need to ‘get real’. Fantasy is like CPR. It lets the magic in us breathe. And it is exactly why it is so deeply satisfying at levels that most of us rarely bother to process.
3. Beneath all the larger than life incredulity and saving the Universe/humanity rhetoric that most fantasies bank on, they at their very core are stories about humans—their emotions, their challenges, their victories, their defeats, their flaws and their courage. Escapism is fantastic. But it has a limited shelf life. The best kind of fantasies, in books, movie or TV shows, are usually the ones that have a strong emotional core. The ones that deal with real human tragedies, real human pain, real human sacrifices and real human bonds even when operating in a strictly unreal realm. We relate to their emotions. Because while we may not have to sell our souls to save our loved ones on a daily basis, all of us do make sacrifices for the people we care for. All of us deal with the emotional mess that is human relationships and struggle to walk down the thin line of balance everyday. Watching our heroes do the same, despite all their superheroic abilities, is strangely comforting. Their stories offer us the rationalization and validation that we all occasionally seek, neatly packaged in an attractive, shiny, suitably distracting box of romance.
4. Fantasy gives us hope. Hope is our biggest addiction. The one that fantasy offers us in plenty. In a world where perfectionism is coveted and mistakes are considered sacrilegious, fantasy lets us believe that even the best of us, with the best resources (and magic) can make mistakes. That mistakes do not mean the end. Fantasy gives us hope that no matter how mammoth the odds are, how dwarfed you are by the super-villainous forces of your life, you can still win. Or at least, survive.
All heroes are flawed. All heroes make terrible mistakes despite all the magic and gadgets and thingamajigs at their disposal. And all the heroes eventually overcome the odds and emerge victorious. If this is not the shiniest and best possible endorsement of resilience, courage and hope in life, I don’t know what is.