Archives for 1 February 2013

Donaldson on the value of fantasy

Good fantasy (and science fiction) correct an imbalance which exists in most realistic fiction. A man named Pelz (if memory serves) once wrote, ‘Beauty is controlled passion. Passion without control is destructive. Control without passion is dead.’ This is the essential paradox of what Blake called ‘reason’ and ‘energy‘: ‘Reason is the circumference of energy.’ Neither means anything without the other. Well, to put Blake in my terms, ‘Intellect is the circumference of imagination.’ I believe that most realistic fiction these days has lost its potential beauty by sacrificing imagination to intellect. Control crushes passion; reason squeezes out energy. In good fantasy and science fiction, the imagination regains its crucial, energizing role. The result is the single most human thing in the world: beauty. (This is the argument from conviction.) My intellectual grad school friends used to denounce Lord of the Rings because it had no relevance to the ‘real world’. They were wrong. LOTR is intensely relevant to the human heart because LOTR is beautiful. I believe that the ‘escape’ into fantasy is an escape from materialism, dead intellect, and cynicism into humanity.

However, to avoid being misunderstood, I should go on to say that people who sacrifice intellect to imagination are making the same mistake which is killing realistic fiction. ‘Passion without control is destructive.’ The person who uses fantasy to avoid dealing with reality is in as much trouble as the person who uses intellect tou avoid confronting the inner dragons.

—Stephen R. Donaldson, interviewed in Fantasy Crossroads (1979)

‘Say to the seers, See not’

Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever:
That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord:
10 Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:
11 Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.
12 Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel, Because ye despise this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon:
13 Therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant.
14 And he shall break it as the breaking of the potter’s vessel that is broken in pieces; he shall not spare: so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a sherd to take fire from the hearth, or to take water withal out of the pit.

—Isaiah 30:8–14 (AV)

This passage, just as it stands, could serve rather neatly as a Leitmotiv or ‘argument’ for The Eye of the Maker as a whole. I shall not use it for that purpose, since Isaiah and Israel belong to this world and not to that one. Still, mutatis nominibus de his fabula narratur.