Monday, September 14, 2009

sounds like fun but aren't we a little old for this?

In the New York Times, Michael Agger reviews Lev Grossman's fantasy novel, The Magicians. He sneers at it. He thinks it "sounds like fun, but aren't we a little old for this?"

Too old for fantasy? Too old for fun? Both notions amuse, amaze, and appall me. I have two responses, the short one, from Pauline Kael, "If art isn't entertainment, then what is it? Punishment?" and the long one, in the form of my essay, "Living Fiction, Storybook Lives." It begins:

There isn't a culture on this earth without some kind of storytelling tradition, whether that tradition takes the form of a wrinkled elder in some dusty village spinning tales of gods and demons, a sleek publishing industry churning out westerns and romances and thrillers, or a Hollywood production company filming epic dramas and torrid soap operas. As individuals and societies we are shaped by story: our culture and sense of self literally cannot exist without it because we only know who and what we are when we can tell a story about ourselves. We learn how to tell our story by listening to the tales that are out there and picking through them, choosing some details and discarding others. If something happens to us that doesn't match the plot lines and characters we are familiar with, we don't know how to classify it or describe it, we don't know where or even whether it fits. It does not become part of our story. As Henry James once remarked, adventures happen only to those who know how to tell them.

I conclude, along with Tolkien, that the ones with the most to lose in terms of escapism are the jailers. So what is Agger trying to keep segregated, and why?

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