How did people cope with misery and trauma before they had video games and Netflix?
Exactly the same way—with stories.
One of the brilliant things about fantasy is that already-universal themes of good versus evil, overcoming impossible odds, or falling in love feel even more universal to the reader. The mutant powers of the X-Men universe symbolise different things to different people at different times and places. (“Have you tried… not being a mutant?”)
I’m typing as my four-year old daughter watches “Frozen”. I just paused it (with her permission!) to ask why she likes this movie.
She said, “Because in the end it’s good.”
The parents just died—but my daughter knows it will be all right.
I’m not a fan of Disney constantly killing the parents, but maybe it’s sort of okay. We all lose our parents both symbolically (when they fail us, when we realise that we can no longer rely on them) and literally (hopefully not as children). It seems too awful to survive, but Disney tells us over again that “in the end it’s good.”
There’s a vital truth within the fiction: this is not the end. Keep going. It gets better (or in some genres, not “better” as such, but different).
Of course, this is also why it’s important to have female-led films, and even (*gasp*) films with non-Caucasian heroes. Because putting the reader in the story is essential.
All of which was inspired by this article on the character of Garibaldi in Babylon Five.
Both of my kids loved pretending to be animals (especially fierce ones) before they could talk. There was a story we told over and over again:
Babies are small and helpless. They realise that at a surprisingly young age. But their imagination very quickly catches up and tells them, “Everything in your life so far has taught you that you are weak and have no control over your life. But you can be a hero. Everything is possible.”
I’m in my thirties and have been crippled by mental and physical illness my entire adult life. It seems hopeless. My experience and my (broken) mind both tell me that the world is full of darkness and despair. But I don’t believe that. My own stories tell me that things (mostly) get better, and when they don’t get better they get different. And my own life experiences tell me that stuff is constantly happening that is far less realistic than any magical epic.
Apart from anything else, I’m already living in the “happily ever after” of my own personal love story. Plus I made two people exist out of basically nothing.
I CREATED LIFE!!!!! MWA HAHAHHAHAHAHA!
So fantasy and magic and happy endings don’t strike me as unrealistic after all.