Imagination and unease: a few thoughts

Why the unease with imagination? I can understand how saturated the market is with fantasy archetypes: elves, dragons, vampires, what have you. It’s being aggravated by Hollywood and TV series cropping up like weeds all over the place. Quality control is a thing of the past, and high production values guarantee a minimum number of viewers. But how do we break out of this muck and see the fantastic for what it really is?

It is more than a tool for subversion, of course. If that was what it was, then it would be as polemical as any other form of reactionary literature. The fantastic image contains within itself volumes of meaning, to be used as the author wants. The truly gifted author, however, will always leave several parts of the fantastic territory he chooses to work with unmapped and unclaimed. She will let these regions — some brand new, some fallow — grow wild, and build an identity for themselves.

The thing that has always interested me about speculative fiction is how grown up men and women write about what is usually considered to fall within a child, or adolescent’s range of interest. Is it because these writers realize that what is relegated to being a child’s is actually an entire hive of truths that people would rather not think about? Is it because they realize that Reality is about as stable as the status quo?

What often passes for sophisticated within the realms of the fantastic is often lazy. You are not being sophisticated and clever if you identify Shakespearean shades in what is a cookie cutter medieval world with the magic and dragons played down, with lots of psychological realism and breasts. Sure, the writing is mature, and a definite step up over 90% of what popular literature used to read like in the 80s. Everything’s gritty. But so what?

To truly be imaginative requires the author to synthesize a wide range of influences, and not necessarily from what passes for the common body of fantastika. Synthesis is the name of the game, a chimerical mash up of seemingly disparate images and ideas, finding its identity in a fertile and intelligent Imagination.