It has been said (by Terry Pratchett if you need the source and I am paraphrasing) that humans need fantasy. To believe the little lies about the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa Claus as children is an exercise in believing the bigger lies like love, truth, justice, what have you. (Whether they are actually lies or is not the purpose of this essay – it’s just what the man said.)
I posit that fantasy has a bigger purpose. It’s a more exciting way of telling ourselves “Don’t be stupid.” And “It’s going to be okay”.
For instance, on the side of “Don’t be stupid”, a brain that knows that drop dead gorgeous girl in the bar who a) is talking to you and b) lets you buy her a drink AND c) has asked to go home with you is less likely to say “don’t be stupid” if it hasn't already encountered all those things in a story about a gullible young lad who had his plumbing ripped off by a creature with teeth in HER plumbing. In reality, the girl who does all the things listed above will more than likely NOT rip your plumbing off with the teeth in her plumbing, but you can bet that she’s up to no good and you should avoid that situation at all costs. In reality, you’ll probably just get a good kick in the plumbing but she’ll have divested you of your phone, your wallet, and your dignity before you can hail a cab.
A young lady on her way to grandmother’s house in the deep dark wood will travel obliviously until reaches her grandmother’s cottage and finding it in disarray will question the perp who is currently lying in Granny’s bed until he gets bored enough to accost her. A young lady who has already heard this story will more than likely not travel alone, and if she does will have more than bread and jam in her basket.
See where I am going with this?
That lonely cabin in the woods where all your friends will stay for the last weekend before college LOOKS like it should have an escaped murderer lurking in the forest. It just does. And because you’ve heard stories where it does, you will a double lock the doors, thereby preventing a rogue raccoon or mischievous baby bear cub from surprising you at 5 a.m while it ransacks the kitchen. Your results may vary in regard to the escaped murderer, but you can’t say you haven’t been warned.
You will not go into vacant buildings where there is the possibility of falling through a floor or encountering a drug-crazed homeless person because…weeping angels, Vampires, demons, floors that absorb your living essence, and escaped murderer who is in reality a vampire or a demon. Right?
It’s one thing for your Mom to say “Stay away from that gutter or you’ll drown.” It’s another thing for your brain to tell you “Stay away from that gutter or you’ll be pulled in by a clown, never to be seen again.”
It’s not all bad, mind you. The practical brain will look at the empty wallet and say, ‘this is the end of the money” and despair- perhaps to the point of making an irrevocable decision. A brain with the fantasy coping mechanism will say something more along the lines of “the wallet is empty now, but my break will happen any minute. I will be called to Hollywood to be the next …” and we make it through another day.
A kid who has already vicariously seen the inside of Hogwarts or the cupboard at the Dursley’s house might already know that what’s happening RIGHT NOW (ie a school bully, a brother who’s a prat, a mom who’s sick or worse, a Dad who’s not around) is not the end of the story. Harry Potter didn’t stay in the cupboard forever, and while he didn’t have it AT ALL easy, Harry survived. And so will he.
It’s easier to bear the unkindnesses of life if you have an arsenal of magic words – sometimes they work.
I’m simplifying here, because I completely understand that some circumstances are 100% reality and no amount of wishing, hoping, or praying will change them. That’s when the brain with a fantasy coping mechanism will seek the safe place for a while. Just to get a break from the 100% reality for a little while, which is a help in and of itself.
I know that even all the life lessons of Grimm’s Fairy Tales will not prevent that out-of-the-blue random awful thing that happens sometimes. It can help, however, to know that this 100% reality thing that happened – if you survived it- IS NOT THE END.
You are still alive. You are still alive and still writing your story until Death comes to collect you and gently usher you on to the place that YOU think you should go when you die. Unless your death is a direct result of not listening to the stories that warn “Don’t be stupid.” Then you can probably expect some sarcasm.
© 2015 Alia Smith
Feel free to share and share alike, but if I see this on Huffington’s without some cash and my name on it, you can bet I’ll be sending the Orcs for your children.