Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Escapism in the Coronavirus Crisis

Sometimes I am asked where in Tolkien's Middle-earth,
or any Fantasy world for that matter, I would like live.
Naturally barring worlds of my own creation,
I think the answer would be Dol Amroth in southern Gondor.
As a rule I have always abstained from commenting on current real-world events here on Stars Uncounted unless I can relate them to Fantasy literature in some manner, so with this post I acknowledge the Coronavirus Pandemic that has quite literally shut the world down. The anxiety is real. Social-distancing requirements keep us at least six feet apart from those not in our household and many are buying enough food and medical supplies (such as masks and toilet paper) to withstand a siege; and even then all groceries must be wiped down, and we can forget about ordering take-out all together. People are fearful and with reason, the anxiety literally making some people sick (though not with COVID-19).

This is the world we live in at the moment and, housebound, we all must find a way to deal with the crisis. How do I do so? Well, a few days ago I posted this to Facebook and Twitter: "Pandemic quarantines do have one silver lining: lots of time to read." Indeed, that is why I finished Winter's Heart when I did. But this post is more than about me, it is about how this crisis illuminates the glory of the Fantastic for, in the immortal words of J.R.R. Tolkien, "Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?...If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we're partisans of liberty, then it's our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!" And has not the Coronavirus been called (and is) the enemy? 

Menaphos, also known as the Golden City,
is a city located far south in the Kharidian Desert.
Hence I am dealing with this Pandemic by embracing that escapism that is the wondrous heart of Fantasy; by, while still taking the necessary precautions, not thinking about it and treating this near-lockdown as an atypical Spring Vacation. I cannot enjoy the world outside my window, so I dive with the greatest delight into the worlds of others and avail myself of the opportunities this crisis has so unexpectedly given. Naturally I recognize that I can only do this because of fortune's favor; because my financial situation is stable and none in my family has the virus. I recognize it, but am not going to loose sleep over guilt at my own fortune or by following news updates on the Pandemic constantly. In times like these one must exercise self-care, and there is no better method than to escape altogether and have fun.

"I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter." – J.R.R. Tolkien

“Stories of the sort I am describing…they cool us…hence the uneasiness which they arouse in those who, for whatever reason, wish to keep us wholly imprisoned in the immediate conflict. That perhaps is why people are so ready with the charge of 'escape'. I never wholly understood it until my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple question, "What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and hostile to, the idea of escape?" and gave the obvious answer: jailers.” – C.S. Lewis

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