Kenny pointed me to his essay on fantasy, which he had written after seeing Prince Caspian.
So, let me share some parts of my life that I had never shared before:
I was deeply involved in fantasy life when I was a child. From about the time I could read novels (9 or 10 years old) I would spend vast amounts of time reading fantasy and sci-fi, and then even faster amounts of time day-dreaming about those worlds. I was never merely the observer of those stories; I almost always become an active participant. I dreamed up roles for myself in the stories, or back-stories, or unwritten sequels to all those books. I developed relationships with the characters based on long conversations I had them.
To give you a sense of what this looked like from the outside, I'll tell you a story. One sunny spring day when I was nine I went outside in our back yard, climbed on a plastic faux tire swing, and began swinging back and forth. And swinging . . . And swinging . . . And swinging. I never looked around. I just stared into space, pushing off the tree again and again. At one point my mother came out into the yard and asked, "Are you ok?"
"Are you all right?"
"It's just that . . . you've been swinging on that swing for two solid hours."
I don't recall, now, what world I was in at that time. It might have Xanth, or maybe Pern. My imaginary life was totally immersive and addictive, not unlike the old Hanna-Barbara cartoon with the day-dreaming kid who was constantly losing himself in dreams, fighting arithmetic problems on the blackboard or deep-sea diving in the classroom aquarium. I eventually learned that people think you're autistic if you sit in one place while you fantasize, so I found socially acceptable repetitive things to do: weeding gardens, hitting tennis balls against schoolyard walls, biking, walking. I have always been a physically fidgety person, more comfortable moving than sitting still, so I usually needed to be moving to fully lose myself in the dream.
An imaginative life is the sort of thing that's supposed to make great artists and writers. But I didn't write, or draw, or create much of anything, other than more and more elaborate dreams for myself. I did read a lot, because my imaginative world needed the fuel of new worlds, new characters and quests. I did not play with other kids when I was in the grades, nor did I "hang out" with people as I grew older. I had only the vaguest sense of what friendships looked like. It troubles me, sometimes, when I think back on my childhood and try to remember it, and there is so little detail. I cannot write the story of my life then, because my life had no story back then. I was living in someone else's. I remember a lot of physical details. I can fly through every house I've ever lived in, and see every room in my mind's eye in perfect detail. Every road or path I walked is equally fixed in my mind. Sometimes, when I'm thinking through a problem, a part of my mind walks through those places again. There are no people in that mental space, though. It's as empty as Charn, the world of the White Witch after she spoke the Deplorable Word.
Someone might suggest that I had retreated into a fantasy world because my real life was unpleasant. I'm sure that's true for some people. But there was nothing wrong with my real life. I lived in a decent home, with good parents and brothers. I did fine in school. If anything, the causality went the other way: I didn't fantasize because I didn't have friends, but rather I didn't bother with friendships because my life was already lively and entertaining enough in my fantasy world. Were it not for puberty, and the strongly felt need to associate with flesh-and-blood females, I might never have come out.
Like the Pevensie children, I also was eventually cast out of the fantasy world. It coincided with the development of my religious life. I started reading C.S. Lewis' theology and philosophy books, at the same time that I was going to Christian youth groups and trying to interact with humanity. At some dim level, I knew that I had reached the stage when living in dreams was no longer appropriate. God did not bring me to this place just to have me dwell in a dream. But it was a secret addiction, a guilty pleasure, and I struggled mightily to overcome it. I never completely did, though I did finally find a place in this world.
Kenny makes the suggestion that people inclined to fantasy literature are also later inclined to spirituality, and that perhaps the reason for the interest in fantasy is that it appeals to some dim intuition that there is a deeper hidden reality in the world that is more real and more alive than the "real world" that most people deal with. There is definitely something to that.
I fell in love with the Narnia books, not just because they were such great fantasy books, but because they explicitly, knowingly made the connection between fantasy and spirituality. Lewis wrote the mythology of Aslan to parallel the mythology of Jesus Christ, and it resonated deeply in me. It was a good and a bad thing. It was good, I suppose, in that it created a deep desire in me to have an encounter with divinity. I had many sleeping dreams in which I finally met Aslan, and could enjoy the peace of knowing him. I was always bitterly crushed when I woke up.
The problem was, I think Lewis did his job too well. I loved Aslan more than I ever loved Jesus. Aslan was powerful and beautiful and subtle; he was most deeply personal while remaining awesome in his magnificence. Jesus was . . . Well, none those things, really. He was this guy that people seemed to perpetually take advantage of, until they finally killed him. Aslan's myth was better. That alone was enough to make me see it for what it was -- a myth, a story, something that might point to a deeper truth, but could never be taken as the Truth itself.
By then, though, the desire was too firmly planted. A life in Mundania could not possibly be enough. In this world people care about fashion, and cars, and who's going to what party, and sports. In other words, they care about things that are stupid and meaningless. (I'm sure that they would look at the things I care about -- philosophy and fiction and spirituality -- and find them equally stupid and trivial. That does not change my opinion. They're wrong.) I had seen a glimpse of life lived for something more real and true. Only now, trapped in a world without magic or miracles, I'm having to create that life on my own. One of the great strengths of the Prince Caspian movie is that it showed how hard it was for the Pevensies to live on the Outside, banished from magic.
Maybe it's because I was not brought up Christian, but I actually do respond a lot that way to the Jesus in the Bible. On the other hand, I don't respond at all that way to the Jesus that is portrayed anywhere but the Bible. The Biblical Jesus seems, paradoxically, awe-inspiring because he is so human. The modern Jesus--the one who loves me personally and died for me personally despite never having met me, the one who seems to be everywhere at once and judging everything and so on--I never could relate to that guy.
But that's all a side note. What I really want to say is that when I wrote my essay on fantasy, I sent it to the two people in the world that I really felt would resonate with it: Doug Oglesby and Anne Worth. I did not send it to you, because I had absolutely no idea that you were right there with me--I knew your love of C.S.Lewis, but had assumed it came from a very different place from mine. But this blog captures exactly, perfectly what I'm talking about. (I added a new comment to my essay, pointing back to this blog entry.)
That being said, curiously, neither Pern nor Xanth captured my imagination at all. Go figger.
Pern and Xanth were not the best, merely the first. Earthsea probably holds the dearest place in my heart, followed closely by Narnia and Middle Earth. And, what the heck, through in Hogwarts as well, though that came much later.
I think my comments here capture where I was coming from back then, but don't fully capture the way I feel about it now. I don't think all my fantasizing was wasted time, but neither do I romanticize it too much either. I suspect that my children, living a more integrated existence and a more managed relationship with stories (the Waldorf teachers are really focused on what stories the kids are absorbing) will relate to life much differently than I did, and probably much better.