Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smoke-stacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?
We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the song the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever, somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.
They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to Middle Earth.
– George R.R. Martin.
…And yet GRRM’s fantasy is grim, sordid murder porn both less interesting and infinitely less pleasant than the real Middle Ages. It’s not charming, it’s not fun, it’s not beautiful, and it’s certainly not a world you want to fucking live in.
Even without that dissonance, what a lame, bullshit faux-world-weary sentiment. The real world is already a place of more beauty and fascination and sensation and intricacy than any mind can comprehend at once, and its innumerable wonders are all the more brilliant for being actual, genuine things with stories that you can read and origins that you can understand. Reality is not just beautiful but tangible, regardless of the cynical weltschmerz you affect to derogate and downplay relics you’ll never touch and dawns you’ll never see.
There’s nothing particularly “old” or “true” about stories made up by people who grew up in places with no history, as far divorced from old-world fantasy as the moon; their flimsy otherworldly imaginings are just that. There’s nothing real or authentic there, regardless of how florid or how gritty the embellishments they add to their hack retellings of stories made up in turn by poets and liars. Trying to give some sort of atavistic spiritual meaning to it all just adds pretentiousness to the unimaginative, uninventive dreck that fills the fantasy genre.
That Southwest Airlines jet you deride is the summed result of enormous, purposeful human effort. Its form and its engines are mundane to you because you can’t be bothered to understand the physical processes of their functioning, the vast journeys of the materials they comprise and consume, the fascinating war stories of their invention and refinement. No, you want wax and feathers and two-dimensional wishful thinking because… why?
The real world is brilliant. If you can’t see that, the problem’s with your eyes.