Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Ancient and Beautiful and True

George R.R. Martin once wrote in The Faces of Fantasy:

The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real ... for a moment at least ... that long magic moment before we wake. 

Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true? 

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.

They can keep their heaven. When I die, I'd sooner go to Middle Earth.

Martin is so right, yet ultimately he is tragically wrong.

Fantasy is alive in ways other literature is not--more real than real and pregnant with truth older than myth.

Fantasy speaks to our deep knowledge of the reality beyond the veil, beyond the darkness of life and in the radiance of Life.  Fantasy is a longing, a cry, a yearning deep within.  It is the lodestone pull of the home we lost but just might find again.  It is flavors we've never tasted, textures we've never felt, and scents we've never smelled but recognize even so.  It is a tree which casts a shadow that we call reality.

Yet fantasy is itself a shadow. Or perhaps a glimmer of reflected light that calls us homeward.  Eden is forever lost to us, but our longing for our lost home is really our reaching for our true home, a home we have never known, but have seen and smelled and tasted in those fleeting flashes that never satiate and always leave us craving more.  We know those flashes when we find them.  Our hearts are filled--for a moment at least--and we linger in that long magic moment even as we stand awake, savoring the fragrance of eternity.  We know then, deep within, that what we yearn for we will never find while our hearts beat with mortal beats. There will come a day when life as we know it will be drawn upward into Life Himself, and the mortal will put on immortality.  When that day comes and our eyes open in Valinor, we will see that the towers of Minas Tirith were just a shadow of the Blessed Realm.  We will see that the beauty of fantasy and the longings it sings are satisfied at last.  For it is not Middle Earth we long for--it is Heaven, ancient and beautiful and true.

We read fantasy, I think, because at its best it points us homeward.  And though we have called our yearning for Home many things and mistaken it for many others, we yearn just the same.

So savor Middle Earth now, let fantasy awaken the longing within, but know that while it points us home, it is not home--it's a glimpse.  And if a mere glimpse captures and enraptures us so readily, imagine what Home will be . . .

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