Dr. Jeremy Holmes On the Numinosity Of Fairies (And Why They're Not Sci-Fi)

I tend to spend the vast majority of my time on the InterWebs milling about and picking up pop-cultural odds and ends. However, I occasionally stumble across a more complex, more deserving issue that requires actual thought. Here's how it usually goes:

  1. Think of a hint of the beginning of an inkling of something interesting.
  2. Worry a great deal about whether it's actually interesting to anyone else.
  3. Obsess over the structure and details while writing absolutely nothing.
  4. Wait until someone who knows what they're talking about writes something.
  5. Post it. Feel like I've accomplished a great deal, though I've done nothing.

One of the "best" examples of this...ahem...process?

I've always been fascinated by fairy tales. From my earliest days (and frequent brushes with Andrew Lang's "Coloured Fairy Books") through my teen-age and college years (and regular rendezvous with "The Ethics of Elfland" section of G. K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy") all the way up through today, I've been trying to figure out exactly where (and how) fairy tales fit into my overall world view (and why they seem to draw and to move me so very, very much.)

In other words, I've been cycling through #1-3 on my list for years. (I did take a stab at a bit of writing once, actually. But that just reinforced my instinct to spent a bit more time on #2 and #3 than I had thus far.)

A few years later, I tried a bit of the ol' #4-#5, with Alan Jacob's piece on  "Fantasy and the Buffered Self," and that was much more successful. And I'm returning to that process -- and expecting similar success -- with a piece from my college roommate and long-time, close friend, Dr. Jeremy Holmes, in which he writes on the difference between fairy tales and science fiction (and fleshes out those differences with a bit of help from "the numinous.")

A character like Merlin in C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength is frightening because he is so apart from us. He is hard to describe as good or bad; he just is, and yet he is personal at the same time. Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is described as frightening, but not because he is evil. We encounter in such characters something of the numinous, the Beyond.
The realm of fairy is like that in the old tales: it is “the Perilous Realm,” a world where things are more densely real than our experience and yet not from our order of things. The best fantasy, I would argue, still manages to convey that sense.
Both fantasy and sci-fi create counter-factual universes. Sci-fi speaks powerfully to what is modern in all of us, and most powerfully to those most complacent in their modernity. Fantasy appeals in part to our dissatisfaction, our restlessness, with being merely modern.

Fantastic! I love it, especially the thoughts on Aslan and Merlin, whose characters were always some of my favorite bits of Lewis. And I especially love the notion that the "Perilous Realm" isn't unreal; it's more and more densely real. (Bonus? I finally understand why I've always been so frustrated by that strange little exchange between Thor and Jane Foster in the first Thor film: "Your ancestors called it magic, but you call it science. I come from a land where they are one and the same." Wrong, Hammer Boy! They're NEVER the same! That's the point!)

*Posts. Feels like I've accomplished a great deal, even though I've done nothing.*

Attribution(s): "Changed by Magic" by John Bauer via Wikipedia; "Tom Thumb and the Giant" by Alexander Zick via Wikipedia.