And who is that littlest one among them, wide-eyed, just awakened and believing he has never made this choice before? You know, don't you?
Imagine a world just like our own. A place of conflict, beauty, sadness, and success. A realm where meaning was more than just the expression of scientific concepts. A condition in which beliefs were not bound up in what was provable or disprovable. A time and space so similar to our own and yet so utterly alien. Let's call this world our past.
Gazing back on our past, we might feel as Pierre Menard did when he set out to recreate Don Quixote bit by painstaking bit. The sunrises might appear to be the same, the blooming flowers might still exude the same scents, or people might still have hopes and fears, but the meanings of these have changed even as the structures have stayed virtually the same.
There is a gulf that divides us from our past interpretations of the world and its realities. A wall of perception that is so high and so thick as to make earlier conceptions of our world to be almost incomprehensible. It might be a world of beauty or a realm of horror, but whatever "it" is, "it" is not what most would call real. There is something that lies between this conception of a world and our own selves. Sometimes, the very attempt to define this something creates an even larger rift, causing this fleeting apparition to fade into the mists of our collective subconscious.
This is the very rough beginning to a paper I've been working on for almost two months now, after being challenged in a discussion over at SFF World to elaborate my stance on the value that fantasy in general and epic fantasy in particular can and should have in describing our historical (and pre-historical) interactions with the world around us in a way that provides some sense of context and meaning in a world that often feels bereft of both.
While I'm nowhere near finished with this paper (it might take me a few more months at the current rate, due to some personal issues with work and my health), I thought many here might be interested in reading this, as well as digesting some of the ideas I plan on developing over the course of this paper. For one thing, I tend to view Fantasy (and it's sometimes-estranged sibling, Science Fiction) as part of a deeper dialogue that individuals and societies have had with themselves over the millenia. While the media of communication might have changed quite drastically from the days of bards reciting Gilgamesh or The Iliad, I do believe that there are certain key elements contained within these ancient epic texts that have been repeated in stories over time and space in the intervening millenia.
Now some might argue that while there are certainly some key surface similarities between the ancient stories and modern texts, the old stories just cannot be fantasies in the modern sense due to the conditions under which those tales were created. There is some truth to that, but one could counter by noting that there might be something in the intervening centuries that has led to an artifical division. The Crowley quote and the reference to Jorge Luis Borges's famous short story, "Pierre Menard," are included to highlight this sense of almost-the-same but not quite.
Among other topics I think might be important in placing Fantasy with the larger Story (or Historia, seeing as I'm very biased in my belief that all literature and other artifacts of human existence ought to be included under the larger umbrella of History, or the Story of human life) would include a look at Marxist interpretations of history, discontinuities, the dichotomy between patrician and plebeian cultures, as well as the rise of mass culture and how that has influenced the ways in which we interact with each other and with our own selves.
Hopefully, this will make for an interesting paper. Just thought I'd give a tease for those who might have some curiosity as to what I've been working on these past few weeks.