Betsy Whitt

I read. I write. I think. I live.

Category: On Fantasy

Tolkien on Willing Suspension of Disbelief

This does not seem to me a good description of what happens. What really happens is that the story-maker proves a successful “sub-creator.” He makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside, what he relates is “true” : it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed. You are then out in the Primary World again, looking at the little abortive Secondary World from outside. If you are obliged, by kindliness or circumstance, to stay, then disbelief must be suspended (or stifled), otherwise listening and looking would become intolerable. But this suspension of disbelief is a substitute for the genuine thing, a subterfuge we use when condescending to games or make-believe, or when trying (more or less willingly) to find what virtue we can in the work of an art that has for us failed.

Right on. That’s from J. R. R. Tolkien’s essay, On Fairy-Stories.

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Randomania

I’m almost done with all the extended deadline stuff. If today goes well, I’ll be even more well on my way.

Tomorrow’s pretty busy. At the very least, I’ll be baking a dessert and shopping for a wedding shower gift for one of my friends, then going to said shower in the evening. If I get my 8 pages written early, I’ll also hit up several graduation parties for high school youth group kids.

In order to ensure reaching my goal to finish the manuscript by the end of May, I’m committing to writing 8 pages (roughly 2k words) a day between now and then. That’s more per day than during NaNo, but it’s only for two weeks, so I figure I should be able to pull it out.

I woke up this morning and couldn’t open my mouth all the way. Guess this means I have to resume my TMJ therapy exercises, because I’m pretty sure it was a new knot that restricted my jaw movement and I had to work it out. Things are cool right now, but I’d rather not flirt with the possibility of waking up one morning and not being able to open my mouth at all. Cuz that would stink.

Turned several pieces of laundry spotted pink this morning, for the first time in my life. Luckily, they were all Matt’s. No, wait. That’s unlucky. I’ll be breaking out the bleach and oxyclean to see if I can get them sparkling white again.

I talk in my sleep. I don’t mention it often because nobody can ever tell me much about what I say. Apparently I mumble most of the time, and you can’t make out words, or else the person who hears me can’t remember what I say in the morning. For the record, these people are generally either my mom, with whom I share hotel rooms fairly often, or Matt, for obvious reasons. At any rate, Matt couldn’t sleep last night and this morning he finally came through with something I said. So here you go, a dramatic recreation of my mid-night babbling:

Betsy (asleep): And they say we don’t have world class . . .
Matt (awake): Waits for a few moments, wondering how the sentence will finish. Food? Music? Books?
Betsy (finally): . . . golf.

And apparently that’s all I said. I have NO idea where it came from. I’m not even reading a book at the moment that even remotely involves golf. Who knows? It’s good to know I’m still loony in my sleep. I’d hate to think I was more coherent asleep than awake.

Now, since it’s been too long since I told you anything about Shiloh, I’ll say that she’s entered her “teenage” weeks. She pretends not to hear our commands, and likes to do whatever she pleases, thank you very much. We are disabusing her of the notion that this is acceptable. Also, she’s still darn cute:

Here’s a morsel from my last critical theory text on religious fantasy and science fiction, one that resonates deeply with me. A quote from Robert Seigel:

[In fantasy] we may discover something that can be represented in no other way, that otherwise would remain unseen. Fantasy ought to be important to Christians because we are concerned with the unseen world. A novel presents the visible world, the world that we see, quite literally. But there is no way directly to present the unseen world, whether it’s the world of the spirit, or the world of our own psyches, except through symbolic images. And fantasy does just that. It provides us with the images, the symbols, the archetypes to grasp what’s going on within us psychologically and spiritually. Without the ability to imagine the unseen, our spiritual lives are impoverished.

And now it’s time for me to write my eight pages. Have a lovely day.

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(Wo)man Overboard!

I’ve been swamped. Matt’s been sick, youth group kids are having crises, there’s writing and editing goals and deadlines piling up, and the house is a mess, which doesn’t help anything.

As such, I’ll make it clear right now that this post contains very little in the way of original thought and analysis. However, I will leave you with another tidbit of the excellent From Homer to Harry Potter:

What comes to mind when you think of a spell? For most people, it has the connotation of magic or enchantment… The World English Dictionary defines a spell as: “a word or series of words believed to have magical power, spoken to invoke the magic.” For those in a Christian tradition, therefore, a spell is thus likely to be viewed as a thing of evil…

In the Old English, however, the word spell had a somewhat different meaning. Originally the word spell meant “story.” Hence, gód spell is “good story”–the close translation to Old English of the Greek evangelion, or “good message.” Thus, when Christians came to England, they called the evangelion the gód spell, which later became the gospel: the good story.

So how did the word change meanings? How did a story become magic? The change is not so dramatic as it might first appear. After all, a good story (or Old English spell) really does cast a spell (in the more modern use of that word). The best sort of story enchants the listener or reader; while he or she is hearing the tale–listening to the “series of words” used to tell the tale–the characters seem real for a time. Indeed, the mark of a successful writer is the ability to make characters so real to us that we care about them.

Discuss as you will. This stuff fascinates and excites me.

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Life on the Boundary

I mentioned a few days ago that I’m reading From Homer to Harry Potter, which I neglected to mention before is written by Matthew Dickerson and David O’Hara, and which looks at the tradition and importance of myth, legend, fairy tales, fantasy, whatever you want to call all of it.

I’ve only read about 65 pages (in part because I keep putting the book down to process everything they’re saying) but already there is so much that I find both relevant and… not so much enlightening as seeming to put into words the things I have always felt and thought about fantasy stories. I keep telling myself I’m going to put together a ‘real’ post about all of this, but so far I haven’t had time, so perhaps I’ll turn it into a little series of bits and pieces.

So, for today I’ll start with a quote from philosopher Peter Kreeft, as quoted by Dickerson and O’Hara:

Death is the most natural thing in the world; why do we find it unnatural? … We complain about death and time…. There is never enough time. Time makes being into non-being. Time is a river that takes everything it brings: nations, civilizations, art, science, culture, plants, animals, our own bodies, the very stars–nothing stands outside the cosmic stream rushing headlong into the sea of death. Or does it? Something in us seems to stand outside it, for something in us protests this “nature” and asks: Is that all there is? We find this natural situation “vanity” [“meaningless”]: empty, frustrating, wretched, unhappy. Our nature contradicts nature.

As humans we stand with one foot rather literally in the mortal stew of time and decay and everything else, and yet there is some part of us that sees it as unnatural, as wrong, and struggles against it. Some part of us is eternal.

And, after quite a bit of discussion and inclusion of ideas from Tolkien, Lewis, and other luminaries, the two authors make this statement:

If man is indeed the spiritual animal, the creature who lives at once both in the world of the seen [mortal] and the unseen [eternal], then those stories that take place in both worlds–that is, on the borders of Faerie–will be far more relevant than stories that take place entirely in one world to the exclusion of the other.

It is after reading passages like these that I feel like jumping up and down and cheering. This is why I read fantasy. These stories touch on truths that illuminate and inform my everyday life, because I do not live simply in the material world. No other genre speaks so clearly to my walk-on-the-boundary life.

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