Madness & Fantasy


Last week the raptor and I went on a guided walk of London which looked at the approach of science and writing to madness in the early 1900s. I can’t possibly repeat the entirety of the walk’s lecture, interesting as it was, so here’s a vague summary of the overall picture painted during the evening:

 Great God PanThere is another world, lying very close to this one, separated only by a thin veil. It is visible only to madmen – those who are not ‘normal’ – and children, whose innocence is accepting of everything. Violence can breech the veil, letting the darkness of that other world leech into this, because violence is a deviancy from normalcy and therefore a kind of madness. Writers of the time, such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Machen and J.M. Barrie, focused on this idea (I think Machen came up with the concept of the veil between worlds, but need to do more research on this) and produced works that were hugely formative in gothic fantasy. The intent was, through writing, to produce a kind of ecstasy in the reader that allowed them to see through into the other world – the word ‘ecstasy’ is derived from the Greek ekstasis: “to be or stand outside oneself, a removal to elsewhere” (ref: wikipedia).

There was tons more detail, tied up in the scientific, medical and philosophic approaches of the day, but those were the ideas that stuck in my writer’s brain. Of them all, the final point is the one that resonated most strongly with me. Reading is not just for entertainment – it is also escapism. Fantasy settings let you escape further than usual, but I like the idea that there is a way there and back again other than just opening and closing the book. It makes you look at the world outside the pages in a different light. Not just escapism, but also renewal.

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