Which would you choose in your entertainment? When you open a book, are you hoping to see your own reflection, or would you rather have a window open up on a strange new world, through which you can watch adventures unfold?
I know what I’d want. And that’s why I write what I write. I don’t particularly want to be a gigantic orc with a penchant for cookies and mommy issues. I feel some connections in life with the woman who has to balance her blasted talent with her career, but I don’t want to be her. I don’t even want to be a wildlife biologist kidnapped to serve a life as a fairy princess. I will admit to a sneaking desire to be a starship captain, but I lack the skills for that, although I could be it’s gardener.
Mostly, though, I’m not trying to write the Real Worldtm because I don’t particularly enjoy reading long, dragging books where very little happens, and when it does, it’s ambiguous and messy and difficult. Because I want to escape from the uncertainties of all of that into a place where actions matter, conclusions can be had, and most of all, dreams are fulfilled. Not that I don’t have those in life, but it takes time. Books give me a window to stare out of a daydream while I’m waiting on the action to happen in real life. They give me a way to climb through to Elsewhere if I’m sick or hurting. A refuge.
You can’t take refuge in a mirror. You are stuck with yourself. I don’t know about most other readers, but me? I don’t think of myself as heroic. I’m bumbling through life trying to make the right decisions, looking ahead into misty futures-that-could-be and setting my steps into paths that might take me to my goals. Books give me models of heroic people who do, and who win through, and that helps me have hope that perhaps I can use their examples. We do learn from books, and I don’t mean message fiction. We can learn how to human, from books that don’t even have any human characters. If you hold up a mirror? You’re only reinforcing your own pattern. Look through a window with observant eyes?
“Literature has the potential of fostering emotional intelligence by providing vicarious emotional experiences that can help the students to gain insight into human behaviour.”(page 239, Tashkenova)
Reading can, I believe, offer things that other forms of storytelling cannot. Which is not to say that the fine art of oral tales is not also important, because a gifted speaker (I do not mean eloquent, here. I have in mind someone who is very talented at the oral style of telling Tall Tales, and it’s a gift to be able to hear one in person.) can render a short saga in the best of ways. In the times before books, and movies, that was all you had, and we still have remnants of those days in written-down form with much of the color and lustre of them rubbed off in the process. The audience was always limited, though. Books? Can be passed down and from person to person and are in their way a deeply intimate solo experience for most readers. Save the rare ones who read aloud, but that’s another post I think.
Movies? Designed for the masses. So are books, or at least, they were. Now? Books can appeal to the most niche of audiences. From a house with few windows, we have moved into a time when there are more windows than we can possibly look through. Why would you want to stand still, staring in a mirror?
I know why. Personally, that’s not my cuppa tea. I want to learn, to grow, and mostly? Get away from myself a bit and gain some perspective while I’m escaping reality for a short while.