This Magic Moment

by Dish Staff

Lev Grossman declares that the fantasy genre has “become one of the great pillars of popular culture and, increasingly, the way we tell stories now,” pointing to examples like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones. The explanation he offers for this:

If my generation is remembered for anything, it will be as the last one that remembers the world before the Internet. You can’t compare what we’ve gone through to WWI, because that would be insane, but it’s not a trivial thing either. Lewis and Tolkien saw the physical world remade around them. The changes we’ve seen have been largely invisible but still radical: they happened in the sphere of information and communication and simulation and ubiquitous computation.

Which is why it makes sense that so much of the 20th century was preoccupied with science fiction, a genre that, among other things, grapples with the presence of technology in our lives, our minds, and our bodies, and with how our tools change the world and how they change us. Those issues are of paramount, urgent importance right now. But a countervailing movement is happening too: we’re also turning to fantasy. It’s counterintuitive, because fantasy is so often set in pre-industrial landscapes where technology is notable for its absence, but it must have something we need. We’re using it to ask questions. We like to celebrate this world, our new world, as a paradise of connectedness, a networked utopia, but is it possible that on some level we feel as disconnected from it as Lewis and Tolkien did from theirs?

Grossman’s takeaway:

God knows, characters in fantasy worlds aren’t always happy: if anything the ambient levels of misery in Westeros are probably significantly higher than those in the real world. But they’re not distracted. They’re not disconnected. The world they live in isn’t alien to them, it’s a reflection of the worlds inside them, and they feel like an intimate part of it. In the real world we’re busy staring at our phones as global warming gradually renders the world we’re ignoring uninhabitable. Fantasy holds out the possibility that there’s another way to live.