Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Escape Velocity

As a writer of fantasy I often get readers (or potential readers) asking why I write ‘escapist’ literature. Why not something more true to life, gritty, and urgent? Something with guns and bombs and death and sex and violence? Or, more in line with my genre, something with megalomaniacal necromancers wielding armies of undead minions setting out to destroy the world (which seems awfully counterproductive, but who am I to judge?)

Of course, we read stories in order to experience how the hero(ine) solves the problems thrown at him or her, without having to experience those problems ourselves. It’s the classic “what-if?” by proxy. What if I was in an office building that was being taken over by terrorists (Die Hard)? What if I was the only one who could stop an evil sorcerer who wanted to rule the world (Harry Potter)? What if…?

I’ve nothing whatsoever against gritty, action-packed thrillers. I read them and enjoy them, as do millions of others. Lee Child? Definitely. Jim Butcher? Bring it on!

But sometimes, as Wordsworth said so eloquently, “the world is too much with us”. The recent terrorist attacks in Europe are a prime example. And so I write ‘escapist’ fantasy for exactly that reason. To provide escape. To give people a chance to get away, if only for a little while, from the guns and bombs and death and sex and violence shrieking out at us from any network news program (or the majority of TV shows).

There’s something to be said, I think, for escapist stories. They bring us out of the world that’s “too much with us” and allow us to regroup. To regain some equilibrium in this topsy-turvy, all-too-often violent existence of ours. There are still problems to solve in escapist stories—there must be conflict of some sort, or there’s no story. But in escapist literature, the hero isn’t normally out to save the world, just his little piece of it. And he's more likely to talk (or trick) his way out of problems then to kill off his adversaries. The heroine may find herself up a tree, figuratively speaking, but she’ll find her way down by being clever rather than by wholesale slaughter.

It’s a matter of degree, I guess. And perhaps a matter of wit. Wit in both senses of its definition.

            Wit (n): 1) mental sharpness and inventiveness; 2) a natural aptitude for using words and ideas in a quick and inventive way to create humor.

I like to think that my characters solve their problems by using not only their wits, but also their wit. And that ability to utilize “mental sharpness and inventiveness” combined with a dash of humor provides an example that can be beneficial to anyone trying to overcome their own challenges in life. You can’t often solve your problems with mayhem, a la Jack Reacher. But you can frequently solve them by using your wit and wits. I don’t think this is a bad place to be. So I’ll take the escape, please, and see what I can learn. 


 Keith W. Willis is the author of the (decidedly escapist) fantasy TRAITOR KNIGHT, a light-hearted look at dragons, damsels and deception mingled with spies, scoundrels and swashbucklers. 

 twitter: @kilbourneknight

The more I learn about people, the better I like my dragon.


Olga Godim said...

Keith, you took the words out of my mouth. Yes, yes, yes to everything in this post.