I love a good book. I love being swept up in another world, getting to see things through someone else’s eyes. But can doing so ever be detrimental? Can an escape from the real world ever cause more of a problem than serve as a help? When does reading a fiction or fantasy book turn into something more?
In my flurry of listening to audiobooks (which I mentioned in my last post), I decided to look up a list of the 100 greatest books of all time. (There are many such lists, but this is the one I referenced.) Years ago, in high school, I read the first few pages of Pride and Prejudice, but when I realized it seemed very similar to the BBC 6-hour miniseries, I decided to quit. But it is on the list mentioned above, so I thought it might be worth a try.
Recently, a friend encouraged me to read it anyway, claiming that Jane Austen’s wit as a writer simply could not be imitated in any film adaptation. So, I gave it the amount of effort I had at the time: I listened to the audiobook.
A Shift in Media
At first it still seemed similar to the miniseries, but I began almost immediately to notice Austen’s skill as a writer peeking through in ways I hadn’t noticed in the film version. I was so hooked within the first several chapters that I decided I wanted to “soak” in it more than the audiobook would allow. I quickly downloaded a Kindle version and began reading that at night in bed after Jared was asleep. That way I wouldn’t disturb him, but I could still get my fix. 😛 Soon after, I found a nice hardcover copy from the library. This made my reading complete. There is still something so satisfactory about holding a real, solid book in your hands and letting it just wash over you. I was finally ready to hunker down and dive deep.
Jane Austen’s Skill
I am now enamored with Jane Austen. Her wit, charm, and skill are evident on every page! Her descriptions of characters and scenery are phenomenal. She pays so much attention to detail, but not in a way that bores or distracts from the plot. (Although I love J. R. R. Tolkien, he has sometimes been accused of this very thing.)
Her other skill is the point of view she writes from. Although she uses the third person narrator, her perspective is not limited (only seeing inside one character’s head) or omniscient (knowing what everyone is thinking). Rather, she is primarily inside the head/emotions of Elizabeth (the main character), but she occasionally “dips” into other characters’ perspectives: Jane, Charlotte, Mr. Bennett, and Mr. & Mrs. Gardiner being the main ones. The effect is incredible. We know just enough to make us more interested in finding out what will happen next. But the mystery of the perspectives we don’t know proves equally engaging. For example, we know that Mr. & Mrs. Gardiner are convinced of Mr. Darcy’s love for Elizabeth (keeping us interested in how this relationship will resolve itself), but we don’t know Mr. Darcy’s perspective (making us anxious to hear his feelings from his own lips). What a masterful use of point of view!
Is There Benefit to Fantasy?
I said (mostly jokingly) earlier that I had to get my “fix” every night, but at times it really seemed like this. One night I stayed up over two hours past my normal bedtime just to keep reading. I truly enjoy getting into a good book, one that “takes you away” from everyday life so that you’re “swept up” in the world it presents. But is this really a desirable trait?
How many of us feel like life isn’t what we always wanted or hoped it would be? Maybe (like me) you thought you’d be married a lot sooner than you were. Or you wish you had a different job. Maybe you wanted more kids, or just wish yours were better behaved. Or had a bigger house. Or a nicer car. Or any or all of the above. Whatever it is you *wish* your life had been, I’m sure you could go find it in a book (or movie or game or other form of media) and live vicariously through the characters you find there.
But is it really worth it? Is this healthy or even beneficial? We all at times need to get away from the worries of everyday life, but I don’t think escape is the way to do it.
Please hear me: there is nothing wrong with reading a good fiction novel! There is nothing wrong with being excited to see what happens next in the characters’ lives! But when it serves as a form of escape–as a way of getting away from our current reality–then, we have a serious problem. Then it has gone from fiction or fantasy to fantasizing, and those are worlds apart.
Whether we like it or not, the life we are currently living is reality. Sure, there are things we can affect and change–and some of these we probably should!–but until they’re changed, this is our life.
As long as we keep wishing and hoping–fantasizing–for something different, we will never be content with where we are.
I love reading about Elizabeth & Darcy’s love story–and in the midst of living out my own, it’s fun to hear about someone else’s. But my story is reality, even when it’s hard, and it’s the reality I have to live with.
As you travel through this next week, begin to think about the ways you attempt to “escape” the reality you find yourself in. Do you daydream about a different life? Do you read or watch movies to get away? Or is there a sin you’ve entered into (perhaps an addiction) in order to escape your real life?
Whatever your escape is, in this moment, choose the real. This is where you are. This is your life. This is where God has you, even if just for now. Let’s begin to embrace this. Then, we can embrace whatever He has waiting for us next.