The Sunday Salon: Escapism

Laura Miller opens The Magician’s Book with a personal memory about her childhood relationship to Narnia. Left to her own devices, she’s “wishing with every bit of my self, for two things. First, I want a place I’ve read about in a book to really exist, and second, I want to be able to go there. I want this so much I’m pretty sure the misery of not getting it will kill me. For the rest of my life, I will never want anything quite so much again” (3). Throughout my life, I’ve encountered people with similar relationships to secondary worlds (as Tolkien calls them), who loved them so much they wanted to go there so very badly.

Me? Not so much.

When I was young, my parents and I traveled what felt like extensively—as I’ve mentioned, my memory prior to fourteen is blurry and unreliable, so this may or may not be factually true. We were lucky enough to have travel privileges and, naturally, being a very French family, we traveled to visit friends and family in France. It’s such a piece of good luck that I always feel deeply ashamed and guilty to admit that I hate traveling. If there’s a goal in mind, such as seeing a show or a museum, I can stand it; otherwise, I enjoy my home life and my work so much that the idea of being forced to abandon it for any period of time makes me feel physically nauseous. I jokingly call it “travel vertigo”. I only mention this because I think there’s a connection between my “travel vertigo” and the fact that I’ve never wanted to go to Hogwarts or even Middle-Earth more than anything I’ve ever wanted. Quite frankly, I don’t want to escape.

Still, that doesn’t excuse my confusion when I realized that a lot of people read speculative fiction, my beloved genre, for escapism in the comments for this post over at the little red reviewer. While there’s also an appreciation for the exploration of the human condition in a way contemporary or even historical fiction can’t offer and fascinating concepts (the main reasons I read and write speculative fiction), it seems to be a fairly big thing. But it goes absolutely over my head (like a lot of things, really); perhaps it’s because I dismantle stories to get at their warm, beating hearts on a daily basis, which necessarily deals with a clear boundary between fiction and reality, or perhaps it’s because it’s the lame excuse I hear the most from people trying to dismiss my beloved genres. This isn’t a Sunday Salon post where I have an answer; I actually want this to be a discussion post and see if my hypothesis is correct. Question after the housekeeping.

As you’re reading this, I’m probably in a self-induced coma; Nerd Prom was last night, meaning I dressed up as Robbie Hart from The Wedding Singer (this year’s theme: musicals) and danced my legs off, all while being a little sick. Thank God for drugstores. I’ll have to drag myself into a coherent position to go see a friend’s performance at at a nearby college, and then it’s Oscar night, baby! My children’s show finished up Saturday morning; it was so much fun. I’m working through The Guns of the South at the moment (although Tigana will be next when it comes in at the library), and I finished Outlander and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas this week.

The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!

If you enjoy escapism, do you also enjoy traveling?

  • Miller, Laura. The Magician’s Book. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008. Print.

8 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Escapism

  1. I do call myself an escapist reader, but I don’t think I use the term in the same way that Ms. Miller does. I read so that I can get out of my own head and my own life for a while, so I can put my problems on hold and watch someone else deal with their problems instead. So it’s not so much that I, personally, want to visit Narnia or Hogwarts or wherever – since it’d be a case of “wherever you go, there you are.” Escapist reading for me is all about being able to get into someone else’s life for a bit, not just someone else’s world… so I find historical fiction and most contemporary fiction just as escapist as sci-fi/fantasy.

    And for the record, I do enjoy traveling, although if it’s too long I do start seriously jonesing for the familiar comforts of home.

  2. All reading is an escape of sorts for me regardless of the genre but in terms of fantasy, while I love being introduced to new worlds and places, I never truly imagine myself wanting to be in those places. Of course, I don’t remember how I felt about this when I was younger so this might just be my adult side speaking for the child.

    I do love traveling but I’m always happy to return home to the comforts of my own bed after a certain point, usually when I begin to run out of clean clothes. This year we’re hoping to leave the country for a few adventures which makes me very happy.

  3. I absolutely adore visiting literary worlds in my head, but I’m pretty sure that the reality of them would be much less romantic and much more tragic. The worlds that so intrigue my mind are full of conflict, and I’m quite the fan of my more simple, more stable life; even if I do like to fantasize about the drama and nobility of these other worlds.

  4. I am not a good traveler. I’m okay as long as I’m with someone who knows what they’re doing and has a plan, and if I do that long enough, I can end up loving a new place. But under any other conditions, it’s hard for me to like a new place. A big reason that I love London is that my first time there was with a university group, and the professors showed us all around. I get stressed about being lost in strange places. I love my own comfy bed.

    I think I prefer the idea of magic places being available, to the idea of actually visiting them, if that makes sense. I like the notion of the existence of magic, even if I know I wouldn’t be a good adventure-story protagonist.

    (And I would like to go live at Hogwarts.)

  5. I think we had this conversation once? Anyway, I think I do like to read speculative fiction (and travel) for escapist reasons, but it’s not because I don’t enjoy my home life and work so much as the alienness of new surroundings tends to give me a perspective I otherwise wouldn’t get in my ol’ routine. Like, when I went to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa last weekend for a writing center conference, I realized how lucky I was to work at such a respected center and also how lucky I was to go a school in a metropolitan area with seriously delicious and varied food (yeah. . .). So, that’s my take on it anyway.

  6. I must say that there are plenty of worlds i would like to visit but not necessarily live in. I think the ones i most would want to see are in the sci-fi line; traveling the galaxy in a spaceship and seeing so many things we can’t from Earth. I love traveling on Earth as well, though i don’t do enough to satisfy me.

  7. I do a lot of travelling for work and dislike it intensely (I hate flying, but enjoy train travel – there’s something rather leisurely about train travel that you don’t get with air travel, which always feels frenetic and isolated).

    Escapism, for me, is very like Fyrefly’s definition – while I love reading about (say) Middle-Earth or Chalion or Regency England – I wouldn’t necessarily want to live there, or even visit, physically. Mind you, when I was a kid I did want to go to boarding school (Malory Towers or the Chalet School), based on all those school stories I read!

  8. I’ve read for escapism for so long, I honestly can’t tell you why I read like that. It’s been that way since I was a little kid. But no, I haven’t done a lot of traveling. I’ve been to Tennessee because family lives up there and we go up there for Thanksgiving. I’ve been to Kansas once – again, because family lives there. I’ve been to Washington D.C. twice for academic awards. We went up there on one trip on the train. And I’ve been to Orlando, Florida several times (Disney World and Universal theme parks). But I will be going on the trip to Ireland that Dr. Cozzens is sponsoring.

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