Escapism, for me, is reading books. A good book makes everything whole again. I find fantasy is the most evocative genre, the one that takes me furthest away from the things I hope to escape. Good triumphs, magic exists and loose ends are rare. People enjoy their work, value their way of life and possess depth of character, understanding, and a low tolerance of injustice.
I miss the characters and their worlds when the last pages have been reached. I feel as though they still exist somewhere out there, and it won’t matter what happens to me here because I’ll always be able to go home to them. Maybe I will stay for a while in Bag End with the Bagginses and Gandalf, or with Badger, Mole or Ratty in their comfortable burrows. I won’t go anywhere near Toad – he makes me tired. I would rather hobnob with the weasels, especially those friendly with Badger. I could go wombling on Wimbledon Common with Tomsk and Wellington, looking in particular for sweetie papers to wallpaper their home. Better still, I could hibernate for the winter in Moominvalley – I always fancied the idea of a nourishing bowl of pine needles just before curling up to dream away the ice and the snow.
Do I prefer the sleepy stories to the adventures? It’s possible. Maybe I like the contrast; the sense of giving respite to characters who have been out in the cold for weeks on end. Or maybe it’s something deeper.
I’ve always been a sleepy kind of person, and have never been able to understand where people get the energy to do the things that they do. Where did Napoleon get his energy, for instance – or Alexander the Great? Too often I’ve lain in bed in the morning (instead of beginning the day’s chores) wondering about such people. Is there something wrong with me that I have never desired to leap up at cock’s crow to add to my little empire? Why do I never feel the impulse to go travelling, exploring, or to conquer Mount Everest? Why would I rather read about volcanoes than stare down into their smoking craters? Why are my favourite passages about people having rabbit stew for supper before turning in for a nice long snooze?
I’m sure there are various reasons. For instance, I sometimes wonder how The Lord of the Rings and other fantasy classics would have turned out if Frodo (or other fantasy figures) had been deaf? How about Gollum? “Sssorry, master, you’ll have to repeat that as poor old Smeagol don’t hear so good these daysss, gollum.” The thought of all the communication difficulties with innkeepers, magicians, trolls and the like, met while hiking along the road to defeat evil, makes me want to curl up in a ball and close my eyes.
Even more depressingly, I still wonder if Mum is right when she suggests I have an underactive thyroid. Maybe that’s always been part of the problem. That’s also why I don’t entirely believe in the concept of laziness – if you dig deep down, deeper than you expect, you may well find all kinds of unavoidable reasons why someone drags along and refuses to get involved with whatever’s going on.
Or perhaps my sleepiness kicks in because ‘modern civilization’ is so intensely regimented and boring that all the fun has gone out of it. Strange things happen but they make me more tired rather than less – people are criticized if they so much as put the words “Oh, shut up!” into the mouth of an Angry Beaver. It doesn’t matter what you do in this climate – either it’s something you’ve been kindly allowed to do (repeatedly) for limited amounts of money or it’s something someone somewhere will hate and despise you for, such as wearing white ankle socks or keeping cats.
There are so many parts of the world (even locally) that we never get to see in our lifetimes because they are the grounds of some reclusive ogre in his castle. Every so often they throw everything together into museums, trusts, collections, gardens or national parks and let everyone in (for a fee) to sigh ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’. They tell us with satisfaction it all belongs to us now and we can come and stare at trees, canyons, animals, old ships, musty houses or junk in glass cases for as long as we like, just so long as we get out before closing time, and provided we don’t get too close, feed the exhibits or touch things with our grubby fingers.
Doesn’t that seem a mite sanitized? You can’t say “hey, I visited the Grand Canyon” or “we went on safari and bothered a group of elephants” or “I found a marvellous whale skeleton that’s bigger than my house”… everybody else has visited/done/seen everything too, and will just look at you as though you’ve presented them with a hot and sticky bunch of daisies.
I don’t even like ‘discovering’ a wonderful blog post only to find the writer has already drawn an admiring crowd of other readers. They got there before me – how dare they! And if I can’t run shouting to everybody “look what I found”, then what’s the use? I can discard that unworthy feeling after a while, but it still leaps on me unawares every so often.
Have you ever noticed that the world has shrunk, and nothing and nobody is beyond your reach? We can dredge the Titanic off the sea bed without killing ourselves in the attempt, and nobody falls off the edge of the world any more. It used to be that you would send someone a carefully worded letter and if you haven’t heard from them after a couple of years, you start to wonder if maybe they died and nobody told you. Now, if you dash off an impulsive email and the recipient has not responded in the next five minutes, you get very angry and think “what did I do to offend the old blackguard? I sent a friendly ‘howdy doody’ across hundreds of miles of land and sea and this is all the thanks I get!” It doesn’t do much to lower your blood pressure.
Finally you discover that everything you do, whether it’s leaving your TV on standby, allowing your tap to drip, or cooking Scottish cod on your gas hob, is a threat to the entire planet. It gets so that they ask you to vote for a cast iron cooking pot on the grounds that it marked the start of the Industrial Revolution, which is a good thing, isn’t it? But then you think “that’s when people lost their jobs and their skills, and that’s also when we began to destroy the world”… and that squat black cauldron suddenly becomes the linchpin of evil. Not so suddenly, perhaps – there could be an underlying psychological reason why it was associated with witches and black magic.
Having embarked on all this industry and technology (how I love my emails and my blog) it becomes very difficult to quit without making enormous sacrifices, including (probably) our own lives. As slaves to the machines, computers and other systems that have been put in place for us and which only seem to fully benefit a select few, what is there to live for? Oh, right – books! Books that make everything fresh, whole, and exciting again. Especially books that allow you to put your head under the blanket and hide for a little while – not just from Sauron, the Weasels of the Wild Wood, the Groke’s frozen loneliness and the rising dark, but also from factories and other places of brain-deadening occupations, politicians, committees, intolerance, inequality, injustice – and pollution.
Where do people get the energy to maintain this way of life? I’m not just talking nuclear, solar or wind power here, I’m talking people power. I have always wondered.
Edit Feb 2008: Some comments I received to this post on Blogigo:
1. drifting wrote at May 18, 2006 at 10:38:
What a wonderful post. I love the way you wrote it coming around in a circle. I share your love of books as escapes from reality. I much prefer to live in the world of fantasy where there is justice and true love and honour, etc, etc. And you (or your mother) may be right about an underactive thyroid. I’ve never had the energy that everyone else seems to have – just watching them or thinking about what they do exhausts me. I did have an underactive thyroid (may still do) and with treatment it apparently ‘returned’ to normal levels but that was some time ago before I got fed up with doctors and checkups, and now continue my slow life. I believe in relaxation and activity in small doses.
2. Diddums wrote at May 18, 2006 at 20:52:
I don’t like the sound of checkups and pills forever more either. I can imagine myself making the same choice you did. I suppose I should go in for some tests, though, and see if the suspicion is correct… sigh.
3. Pacian wrote at May 18, 2006 at 22:28:
I can sympathise with preferring the nice scenes in a fantasy sanctuary to the brash adventuring, albeit perhaps for different reasons. It’s always scenes like that that make it feel real to me. If I was in some weird alternate world, I imagine I could take great pleasure in little things like having a home and a window to look out of.
I read something, on a blog not too long ago, that stuck with me. Someone wrote that when you find out more and more about people, you discover that everyone feels that they’re hanging on by their fingertips to a life that moves too fast and is too hard. All our media and stories tell us that happiness is doing loads of stuff and exerting yourself in certain ways, but I don’t actually think that this is true for everybody, or even most people.
4. Diddums wrote at May 19, 2006 at 00:53:
That’s a good point – they do add depth to the book; a little perspective and a chance to study the surroundings. People can sit around and talk to each other a bit more, too – and usually they meet somebody new, or hear something in the way of stray gossip…
I go off some characters if they turn out to be somebody really important – royal personage or such. They get trapped in their new roles and responsibilities at the end of the book, and that never feels quite right to me. Maybe it’s that lack of energy getting in the way again!
5. kateblogs wrote at May 20, 2006 at 16:03:
What a wonderful post, you sum up the modern world so well. There are a lot of great things about the 21st century, ease of communication for example. Oh, and of course electicity and medical treatment. However, sometimes I do envy people in the past. They did have new places to discover and explore, new theories to prove or disprove, and their lives don’t seem to have been as regimented as ours. Certainty is good, but I think we all need a little adventure too.