Sunday, September 21, 2014

Escaping Fiction

Caution: this post may contain spoilers in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Cornelia Funke’s Inkdeath.

If there is one thing I enjoy doing at the end of a long day, it is sitting down to read a good book. I would rather read than watch a movie or some television show. Although the latter are nice, I prefer something that will engage my mind and make me think. Of course, I enjoy reading for pleasure, sometimes to the point where it doesn’t feel like I’m working at all because I’m so engaged in the story. Sometimes, after a difficult day or when a book is well written, I wish I could escape into the story itself.

“Because by now Elinor had understood this, too: A longing for books was nothing compared with what you could feel for human beings. The books told you about that feeling. The books spoke of love, and it was wonderful to listen to them, but they were no substitute for love itself. They couldn't kiss her like Meggie, they couldn't hug her like Resa, they couldn't laugh like Mortimer. Poor books, poor Elinor.” –Cornelia Funke, Inkdeath

After all, what reader would not want to visit the lands of their favorite books? Who would not want to explore Middle Earth with the Fellowship? Or fly to Neverland with Peter Pan and Wendy? Or would readers? After all, many stories include great hardships, enemies, and even death. Why would readers willingly wish they could visit their favorite characters if readers knew they would suffer?

Me with my e-reader in Il Campo, Siena, Italy
Photo Credit: Lori Klein
This summer, my family and I visited several places where some of my favorite books are set. One such setting was Tuscany, the beautiful setting for Lisa Bergren’s The River of Time Series. Although we did not travel back in time to medieval Italy, visiting both Siena and Firenze made the books come alive. This made the books seem less like fiction and almost like reality. The same is true for other book settings I have visited.

If this were the case for other books, would it really be so exciting to visit a fictional setting if it became more like reality? I agree that it is exciting to visit such settings in our world. Nevertheless, I do not believe we would want all the stories or the characters to come to life. Cornelia Funke in her Inkheart trilogy, especially in Inkdeath, portrays the unfortunate circumstances of the relationship of readers and a book itself. Within the story, many of the characters learn that living within a book is far different and even more difficult than reading one.

In reality, readers may not want to go through the same hardships that beloved characters do. At the same time, readers still return to books, often times with a sense of longing for another story or another world. For our own world can be full of perils that readers may not want to experience, so they may turn to fiction. From a Christian perspective, readers may have a longing for heaven, for even Christ said His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). At the same time, literature, even utopian literature, can never contain perfect worlds.

As much enjoyment readers get out of their favorite books, they must also remember to treasure their own lives and relationships. After all, reading should be a reflection of life with all its hardships and joys. In the end of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Prospero puts away his magical books to travel back to Milan with his daughter and other character. Ultimately, he puts more emphasis on people and relationships than his own power through books. Even readers should remember that their own lives and relationships are vitally important.

What are some reasons you read? Do you have any favorite story settings you would like to visit?

Literary references: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Lisa T. Bergren’s The River of Time series, Cornelia Funke’s Inkdeath, William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and the Holy Bible.