As humans have increasingly become entrenched in the miasma of science and realism, we have forgotten how we may be whimsical, lighthearted, and explorative. Gone are the days of running around and letting your imagination take you away to somewhere unseen even by the person standing two feet from you. Today we are told we must have our two feet, as well as our heads, planted firmly in the real world — where else could they possibly go?
In his essay “On Fairy Stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien laments that we have removed fairy tales from adult life and adult criticism. They were originally enjoyed by adults as well as children, even enjoyed more by the adults. But, as Tolkien points out, we have left them in our nursery rooms and — like the furniture and toys which populate those rooms — they have become worn down, tattered, and covered in slobber.
Many children’s books today are thinly veiled, and even more thinly argued, attempts at establishing values which the author deems necessary for decency in modern life. Some are even less moral than this, aiming only to teach basic grammatical skills without any of the dressing of true storytelling. Real fairy tales have been forgotten or watered down for our children, because they have been left to the children.
Even these weak fairy tales are disappearing altogether from young life, however. Rather than pretending that there is a pirate ship in the backyard, children today are plopped in front of the TV as they play videogames or watch a show in order to vent these imaginative pressures. In 2015, a boy in Texas was suspended for bringing his “one ring” to school. School officials took it to be a threat when the boy told a fellow student that he could make them disappear by using the ring. While this story is mainly amusing, it points to a deeper issue that is endemic in the school system today.
Children are not supported in their chasing of fairytales in everyday life, but rather are told only to accept what is “real.” Modern society is increasingly inclined to suppose that all choices and ideas are little more than physical phenomena.
This rejection of fantasy when we are children reappears with terrible repercussions in adulthood, however. Now we dream when we are old, escaping into our fantasies at an age when we should be engaging with reality. When we escape at this age, with no experience of traveling into fantasy worlds, we assume these fantasies to be closer to the truth than actual reality.
We must become experienced travelers in the land of fantasy when we are young, otherwise we run the risk of losing ourselves in it with no hope of finding our way back out when we are old. Now, when a child imagines himself to be a herself, we applaud that child for realizing their true reality and then proceed to buy them a new wardrobe. Once, pretending to be something one is not was a healthy way for children to be playful, but today’s adults are unable to recognize fantasy when they see it.
The disbelief in disbelief has led to the utter acceptance of fantastical ideas as reality because, after all, one’s fantasies cannot be anything but chemical reactions produced by the brain. In Canada, a 52-year-old man, Stefonknee Wolscht, left his family of a wife and seven children in order to pursue his supposed true identity as a six-year-old girl.
“I can’t deny I was married,” Wolscht said. “I can’t deny I have children, but I’ve moved forward now and I’ve gone back to being a child. I don’t want to be an adult right now.” Wolscht is not living in reality. Rather, he is unable to escape the fantasy which he has created for himself.
Because we have been trained as a society to believe in reality only, we are unable to separate fact from fantasy, eventually allowing the fantasy to become fact. We have found ourselves in a strange land indeed, where a man can be a young girl, a woman can “marry” the Berlin Wall, and where things are only as real as we imagine them to be (or not to be). True Fantasy has been discarded, and False Reality has taken its place. Fantasy must be recognized and resurrected.
“Fantasy is a natural human activity,” Tolkien wrote. “It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason… On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth, then Fantasy would languish until they were cured. If they ever get into that state, Fantasy will perish, and become Morbid Delusion.”
Mr. Robson is a senior studying economics.