The True Life of Fiction

1059 words | 4 page(s)

I never enjoyed reading much when I was younger. Perhaps this was merely the result of the time period I had been born into. The digital age, with its streams of hypnotic constant entertainment, lulls the contemporary individual into a type of trance. At this time, if I had the choice I would always prefer to watch a television show than engage with a novel. Perhaps this was because I did not come from a family that placed a large emphasis on reading: there were not many books in our home, yes, there were the occasional newspapers and some of the funny pages perhaps did capture my attention at some time or another, but I had been indoctrinated into the age of television and the Internet, and there was something archaic or even I could say something foreign about the medium of a book as compared to the mass forms of media that had become the dominant form of communication in our era.

This, however, all changed when one day a colleague of mine at school I noticed was reading a book with a striking cover. I only saw the cover and that is why this image has perhaps stuck in my mind. There was the picture of a Medusa-like figure, a snake haired horrible monstrous image, and underneath was a hero, sword drawn, riding on top of a magnificent steed with wings spread to the horizon of the books cover, engaged in combat. My curiosity was captured, perhaps also by the fact that this school friend, who I had some respect and admiration for, was so caught up in the book that he did not even know what was going on around him in the school yard. This was a different kind of trance than the one I was used to from watching the numbing effects of the television for hours on end. The way my colleague read the book and held it, it was almost as if he was inseparable from its pages, he had been completely drawn in into the narrative.

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My first reaction, after the cover, was to approach him and ask him exactly what he was reading. But then I thought, no, I don’t want to bother him, I see that he is entirely drawn into the story. Nevertheless, my curiosity had been set in motion and I interrupted him and asked him what the book was. Annoyingly, he looked up at me, since I had broken the tempo of his meditation. He hurriedly said something to me, muttering something about Greek myths, and then returned to the book, as though I didn’t exist. Not easily getting his message of a desire for solitude ,I asked a series of questions, for example, where did he find the book, if perhaps a copy was available in our school library. He didn’t exactly answer, producing a half yes or a half no, which could have meant a multitude of different messages, for example, he did not know or did not want to disclose the information or was more interested in continuing in this world that he was in as opposed to dealing with the banalities of my world and its questioning.

As I said, my curiosity had nevertheless already been triggered. The next day I went to the school library and asked if they had a copy of a book of Greek myths. I described the exact book I would be interested in reading, something that had on the cover a type of Medusa figure, some hideous beast in deathly combat with a hero and his stallion. The librarian was extremely kind and receptive to my questions – clearly she was happy that a young student had taken interest in reading and directed me towards the book shelf where they had mythology. I looked on the shelves for the exact book that my colleague had, but was unable to find it: nevertheless, there were other substitutes with other fantastic imagery that more than made up for the loss of the exact book in question. I saw covers with horrific monsters, with brutal battle-axes riding on monstrous crosses between horses and bulls: this apparently was the cover of one edition of The Lord of the Rings series. I saw another book with a Viking-like figure, seated on top of a bed of skulls. This was a collection of short stories from the great American pulp writer, Robert E. Howard. Another edition on the shelf was some type of instruction manual for a series called Dungeons & Dragons, a game I had heard about, but in this book was a complex and detailed set of biographies for various characters in the game. I did not find the Greek mythology book that my colleague had, yet I nevertheless feverishly checked out the books in question and returned home.

Certainly, my reasons for interest in these works could be considered juvenile: fantastic monsters, heroes, violence. But these, on the other hand, are motifs that are present in all the ancient literatures of the world, with its epic tales of legends and heroes. These are what the psychologist Carl Jung would call archetypes, figures that transcend every cultural boundary and appear in all our stories, resonating with all of us. By entering into this world, in a sense I was not entering a world of fantasy and fiction, but perhaps a world that was more real than the world we have been given: the world of the television, the Internet, of “reality television”, and of video games. This world of fantasy, of heroes, was therefore more real in the sense that they are cross-cultural archetypes, something present in our fairy tales, in all our native folklore cultures, even in our most fundamental religious books. This was, in other words, the true life of fiction, as opposed to the fictitious life of the digital reality.

From that day on, I became an avid reader. My tastes were dictated by writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, the aforementioned Howard and other mythological and fantastical narratives. I even became a key participant in Dungeons and Dragons, creating universes which were in a sense more meaningful than the one around me. My indoctrination into reading and fiction did not demarcate a flight from the world, but an interrogation as to what reality itself is.

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