Friday, August 22, 2008

Escape, answer #1--Escape is not a bad thing

Tolkien's famous answer is that no one reprimands a prisoner for trying to escape. Even that, though, is a phrase that could be interpreted different ways. So I think of this one rather as the Robert Frost answer. I owe it to a college prof of mine who had published a book on high, epic fantasy many years before I was in college, John H. Timmerman (1983, according to Amazon). It's long out of print, and I can't say what I'd think of the discussion within it today, but this was his comparison in that book.

In Frost's poem "Birches," the speaker dreams of climbing the trunk of a birch tree and then, swinging from the drooping tops, find himself back on the ground. "I'd like to get away from earth awhile / And then come back to it and begin over." And then the key, the thing that makes escape not a negative thing is in the next lines, "May no fate wilfully misunderstand me / And half grant what I wish and snatch me away / Not to return. Earth's the right place for love..."

Stories set in a secondary world, by this argument, do offer escape from the real world, but it's a temporary escape that allows a reader to return once again ready for whatever might be happening. A negative escape would be to climb those trees and refuse to take that swinging plunge through the air that ultimately brings a person back down. (Italo Calvino might argue that even that isn't ultimately negative...but then I think we might be starting to mix metaphors, which wouldn't help.)

It is possible for two readers to read the same text and react differently, one in the cover-my-ears, I'm-not-listening-to-the-real-world way and the other in an OK-now-I-can-deal-with-this-way, so I don't think this answer relies on the text so much as on the reader...but that will probably be true of all of these responses I give.

I'm not fully satisfied with this one, but I think it's a good starting point.

No comments: