The Life of Fantasy
This is about to get nerdy real quick so prepare yo’ self. Lord of the Rings or, LOTR, is popular for many reasons, perhaps mostly (and maybe sadly) because of their recent cinematic interpretation by Peter Jackson. I myself have no problem with the movies and think they are wonderful, it would just be sad to me if more people had watched the movies than read the books. I like to watch the LOTR series now late at night after too much whiskey or on Sunday afternoons when I’m feeling despondent and want to watch something heroic. The recent Hobbit movies have been something else entirely (mainly a ploy for cash and hours of wasted cinema spent in ever increasing climactic battles that go nowhere) but I will still watch all of them many times, because that’s how much I love Lord of the Rings and Middle Earth.
I’ve never known what it was that drew me to Lord of the Rings until I re-read the introduction by Peter S. Beagle. I knew that I liked the story. I knew that I liked disappearing into another world. I knew that I liked adventure and journey and wanted more of it in my own mundane life. I knew that I liked it better than Chronicles of Narnia because it was less allegorical and therefore, harder to characterize and explain.
It was December. I hadn’t read the books in over five years and wanted a nice shift from heavy reading to simply a good story with a fast plot. The Hobbit (the movie) was coming out and so I had just finished re reading it and decided to go on with the others. I was trying to quit smoking and get my life on track, which meant that I needed an escape outside of my usual escape of whiskey and American Spirits. Reading was always a good escape but it couldn’t be anything too corny and it couldn’t be anything to heavy either, some depressing novel by Kafka would only make me want to drink and smoke all the more.
So this time when I sent out to read the books, I read the introduction. Perhaps I had read the introduction before and it didn’t mean anything to me, or perhaps I read a version where there was no introduction by Peter S. Beagle, either way, it felt new to me. Beagle in it says of Tolkien, “He is a great enough magician to tap into our most common nightmares, daydreams and twilight fancies, but he never invented them either: he found them a place to live, a green alternative to each day’s madness here in a poisoned world.”
“A green alternative to each day’s madness in a poisoned world.” I knew then what it was that I liked about Lord of the Rings. It gave me respite from a poisoned world. It gave me strength. It made me believe that a world was possible where one could walk in a world unhindered by cubicles and freeways. Where caves and mountains replaced strip malls and parking garages. Where one could fight one’s enemies face to face, rather than by drone or through the lens of a computer screen. There were clear demarcations of who was good and who was bad. Sure, there were Men who were fickle and prone, morally confused and at times complex characters, but at the end of the day, we knew who was good and bad and this humanity of men only made their decision to be good all the better.
One afternoon in July my friend Jeremy and I found ourselves sitting on the porch talking about the very same thing, when a thunderstorm rolled in, bringing with it a minor relief from the heat. As the rain picked up my feet started to get wet as the drain on the narrow porch began to overflow. At the time I was living with Jeremy and his family. The household was eerily quiet as Emily and their three spawn had taken a trip to Oregon. Lightning struck a little ways off and the clap of the thunder got louder
We watched the rain. I’ve always liked days when it rains. It feels more honest. Like the outside matches the inside. I always feel bad being all dark and broody on a beautiful summer day.
“I like the weather when it’s like this.” I said. “Reminds me of Oregon.”
“What are you reading?”
“This.” I said, as I held up the book.
“Oh…nice.” I couldn’t help but notice a slight hint of condescension within those two eye spheres of his.
The book was Harry Potter. What was a twenty-three year old man with a beard doing reading Harry Potter on a summer afternoon? Exactly what he wanted. That’s what he was doing.
Jeremy took a seat on the Winder Farms cooler. My entire body itched from mosquito bites.
“Have I told you my problem with Harry Potter?” I said. “It’s a philosophical one.”
Jeremy tried to look interested, his eyes focused on some image known only to him in the distance. “Hm?”
“My problem is…I’m not really sure if life is supposed to be…I don’t know what the word would be, ‘Epic.’ I’m not sure if life is supposed to be epic or not. Harry Potter, or any fantasy really, Lord of the Rings, paint a picture of life very different from what we experience. They’re obviously fantasy, but what I’m wondering is if these novels, or movies or whatever, are actually pointing to a truth in life that should be more exciting and adventurous, or if we should just merely accept the monotony of life and realize that it has some good parts but a lot of really boring ones. My life is incredibly boring, not bad all the time, just, you know very…ordinary. In movies you have two hour glimpses of the most dramatic parts of a characters life, or maybe not even dramatic, but parts that matter.”
“Yeah, I see that,” said Jeremy.
“So,” I asked. “Is life epic…or normal? I feel like I’ll be less disappointed in life if I accept the grueling monotony of it and think less about how I’m missing out on some supposed greatness. I feel as if I read somewhere that some of the happiest people in life are those with the lowest expectations.”
“That could be,” said Jeremy. “ I think it’s fascinating that people never go to the bathroom in movies.”
“You know?” He looked at me. “You never see it. No one ever goes to the bathroom In fact, there’s a lot of stuff that would never make it into a movie.”
“Like going to the bathroom?”
“Like going to the bathroom.”
We both stared off into the rain for a good fifteen minutes. No words.
“It’s like—” Jeremy broke the silence, “we all have these things we never talk about in our lives.”
“I think someone should make a movie about all the boring parts of life,” he said.
“I’ve thought about it.”
“Like what if you wrote a book or made a movie about four years of half hour boring conversations with someone that eventually lead to one interesting sentence of truth or meaning?
“No one would want to buy it.” I said. “Who would want to read a book about people going to work, sleeping, and going to the bathroom?”
“Probably, no one, and yet, these activities take up most of our day.”
“Yes. Who would want to read a book about people let’s say, in Salt Lake City? Maybe they have interesting lives, maybe not. Maybe they’re interesting people. Maybe they live in unconventional ways. Maybe they hang out together, go to BBQ’s, bars, each other birthday’s parties, maybe they talk about very boring things on the front porch, but still, is any of that interesting?” I said.
“I’m not sure it would be.” Jeremy said.
“Who would want to listen to the dialogue of everyday life? The incessant chatter of meaningless conversations?”
“I don’t know. I sure wouldn’t.”
We stared into the fog of July, the steam rising from the pavement.
Movies after all, are two-three hour compressions of life. Even boring indie movies have a sort of narrative trajectory that stretches through the screen. Life has no narrative trajectory. At least, not all the time. By movies I mean typical Hollywood stories with narrative arcs that include rising action, climax, and resolution, within which most stories stay. The formula is there for a reason—all I’m saying is that life often times does not resolve, and often times it is not epic or grandiose. I used to think that this was a bad thing, when my life was not caught up in some dangerous romance or high-speed car chase, but now I realize life is rarely, if ever, like this. Profound insight I know.
When I was in eighth grade I read a book called Wild At Heart. In this book the author told me I was the William Wallace of my own life. I thought this was very exciting news because I had always loved Scottish accents and kilts. However, soon I realized that my life resembled little to nothing to that of William Wallace’s. Mostly, I was in high school trying to pass physics and getting boners in math class.
What often happens is that these stories and movies masquerade as honest representations of life, when in fact they are not. In reality, the most honest cinema comes in forms of T.V. shows like Seinfeld and Louie, shows that do not necessarily evolve or end but simply are.
Undoubtedly, with most stories you need some sort of narrative structure so that your story will not become like some gargled John Cage composition, however, to assume that your life can and should follow a certain narrative structure wherein you hike Machu Picchu and marry someone like Tom Hanks? That to me, seems misleading. And yet, with the present generation, my generation, generation why? or whatever they’re calling it, it would appear we are all simultaneously sucked into this myth that we are born to be rock stars and movie stars. We’ve been told relentlessly how “special” we are, educated by talk shows and books on making your best life now, living the dream, taking the world by storm, how much we deserve it, etc. This is the reality I grew up in. A cruel reality once the curtain is torn down.
This is also why it is awful for me to imbibe any sort of fantasy. Because, reality, all of a sudden, is not enough. Reality is boring. It’s filled with trips to the grocery store and putting pants on. I find myself daydreaming about a greener world, a world in the past or future, where you can fly on a broom or ask an elf out on a date. Or I become bitter about the world I live in now, fantasizing about a world where cars do not exist and computers were never invented.
I have also recently picked up the Harry Potter books. As far as fantasy books go, I thought Harry Potter was ridiculous until about two months ago. But I grew up reading the Chronicles of Narnia and then moved onto Lord of the Rings and now, Harry Potter, though it’s always slightly embarrassing to find yourself reading something they sell explicitly in the “Children’s” section of Barnes and Nobles. I’m not sure If I’m in a healthy place in life to move onto Game of Thrones as I’m positive I’d become a recluse with long fingernails until I finished them. Right now I’m almost finished now with book seven of Harry Potter and I’m beginning to get very sad.
In comes that feeling of when you finish a really good book. Where it leaves you feeling empty after you finish it. When you turn the last page of that book, and the back cover shutting makes a soft sound, subtle and sad. An act forcing you to sit in your chair for a while, as if contemplating 80-year-old scotch, because you didn’t want it to end, and it just has. You tried to read slower but it didn’t matter. When the black screen hits and the credits start rolling. When you realize that your last two weeks, months, years even, of following these characters through the gale and hiss, the triumph and the sickness, through misty mountains, dark caves, death’s cold mouth, love’s first hints, and love’s culmination—when you realize that it’s over—reality knocks, soft at first, but soon with fist.
There is no more rushing home from work to read another chapter. No more late nights where you know you should go to bed but just can’t because the story is so good.
And when you wake up the next morning and realize that there is no Sauron, or Voldemort to fight, when you realize that your broom can’t fly, that Rivendell is not a place on earth, a pale sadness creeps in. Perhaps I should say “me.”
Because when I wake up and realize that life is filled with school and work, taking the trash out, doing dishes, feeding myself somehow, etc. I want nothing to do with it.
And I really don’t know what to do with this, the realization, that life is very…ordinary.
That it is profoundly normal, filled with some good and exciting things every now and then, but honestly it’s just very…plain.
It’s not bad, but it’s not really good either. Our friendships are messier. Our battles vague, ambiguous, non-existent. Or at least boring. I have battles. My battles are to not be depressed, and to not look at porn, and not drink too much, to not do other things and really they are just boring as hell.
Some battles are tangible. As tangible as dragons and evil lords. But others are not fun. There is no adventure. We have battles to keep our marriages together. Battles to stay sober, to not get addicted, to fight our selfishness.
There is no dark lord to defeat. There are horrible things happening around the world: poverty, sex-trafficking, corruption, greed, addiction, and so on, but really fighting these things just seems like it involves a lot of paperwork.
I’m not sure how much life changes, as in, we can change the world. For a while, I went to political protests. I got tired of them.
As that cliché saying goes, it really is harder to live for something than die for it. Dying is easy. Living is hard. It’s hard because it’s messy. It’s vague, and ambiguous, and a lot of the time you’re not really sure what the hell is happening,
Tomorrow I have to do homework and laundry, and make at least enough money to feed myself and pay someone to live in their house, and perhaps I will try and help someone or have a good conversation or listen to a good song, or do something artistic, or actually make a difference, but really I’ll just be tired from daily obligations and will go home tired, exhausted, passing out to re-runs of The Office.
Perhaps this whole idea of living “life to the fullest,” is a privileged, bourgeoisie ideology. Perhaps we say such things because in the Western, postmodern, technological age, we are so distanced from life that we think going in kayaking in Costa Rica or biking across the U.S. is going to help us really experience life. And yet others, all around the world, are not worried about such things. Maybe commercials, advertisements, and movies have us all confused.
Andy Warhol made a movie called Sleep. It shows a man sleeping for six hours. Perhaps this was the most accurate movie ever made about humanity.