In what is likely to be my last blog post before I go on holiday next week, I want to write about escaping into new worlds. Maybe I’ve got holiday on the brain or something, but I’ve always found that one quality (one of the most important qualities, in fact) that a book must have for me to really enjoy it is its power to take me away from the real world and place me firmly into the fictional world that the author has created.
However, over the course of my English A level, whenever this idea of escaping into the world of the novel came up it was seen as a bad thing! We studied pastoral (rural) literature in the last half of the second year, and one of the ‘negatives’ of the genre was that it was often escapist. This means that the authors took their heads out of the real world and wrote about a world that didn’t exist. I guess this was seen as bad because it was assumed that these authors didn’t want to deal with the real world (or something like that), but even after being taught this, I still can’t bring myself to believe that using a book to escape from the real world is bad in any way.
Surely it shows an authors talent if they can make you forget your reality, even if only for a couple of hours, and take you to a world of their own creation? When I read a book outside of the context of education, I don’t always want to have to contemplate wider themes, political implications and intricate levels of meaning – more often than not I just want to read a good story.
I know that in some books, the layers of political and ideological meaning are important etc. But for me, the best authors are those with the ability, first and foremost, to tell a good story. I would much rather read a book that’s all story and nothing more, than a book layered with real world implications that just isn’t a good story.
That’s probably why I like fantasy books so much. The whole point of fantasy is that you know the world you’re entering is something new, somewhere away from what you know (unless the author isn’t very good and is simply copying other authors’ ideas). I think that to really enjoy fantasy, you have to accept that you’re entering a world where the author makes the rules. Your standards become the standards of those living in that world, not the real world. When you open that book, you become one of the characters. If a book does that for me, then it’s well on the way to being awesome. I know that some fantasy authors are trying to make a wider point with their work, but I’m yet to read a good fantasy book where that gets in the way of story.
All that said, I do like the clever intricacies that some authors work into their novels; I’m open to real world implications as long as those implications don’t drown out the story. I suppose that the point I’m trying to make with this is that escaping into a book isn’t somehow a lesser literary experience than musing on the deep questions of life, the universe and everything. For me, this escapism is, quite simply, enjoyable. There doesn’t have to be more to it than that.
Although I’m planning on studying English for the next three years, the books that I normally read aren’t those considered classics of literary history (though I do enjoy a good ancient epic poem), they’re often not even considered classics of modern literature, they’re just fantastic stories. In fact, recently I’ve even taken an interest in Marvel’s graphic novels (as any of my Twitter followers will know) and the reason for this is nothing more than I enjoy the stories. To be honest, I don’t really care about the factors that make a book a classic (I was taught about 4 of them when I did my A level). When I read a book, all I care about is how good the author is at telling a story, and in my opinion, being able to take me to another world is part of that.
Long live good stories.