Ezra’s crackpot theory #425*

Which until now has been a secret crackpot theory.

I was checking my feedreader this afternoon, after being about a week out of date, and in my RSS feed for all flickr photos tagged “letterpress”, I saw something for the Oblation Press of Portland, Oregon, and it made me think about the Oblation Board in Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and that great situation where Lyra is dressed up at an elegant dinner party with Mrs. Coulter and she starts to get a glimmer of the horrible truth about the Oblation Board, and decides to run away. That whole scene, and that feeling of fear, just came alive in my brain, like the fear and imagery of a super vivid dream.

Which leads me to share my crackpot theory. Good fantasy (and I just don’t have the energy now to define my terms, so there) somehow actually is a map of the subconscious, and (even farther out on the limb…) that it actually somehow triggers biochemical reactions in the brain.

I’ve mentioned a favorite Borges quote before, and I think it gets at the same idea: “We are ignorant of the meaning of the dragon in the same way that we are ignorant of the meaning of the universe; but there is something in the dragon’s image that fits man’s imagination, and this accounts for the dragon’s appearance in different places and periods.”

Crackpot theory #425 appeared first a few years ago when I was re-re-re-reading the Lord of the Rings just after the first of the movies came out. The part where Frodo and Sam are in Mordor feels like it goes on forever, there’s such a grey, weighty, washed-out feeling that weighs that whole section down; the landscape seems paradoxically both precisely described but also strangely without landmarks or differentiation. I started wondering why such a place would take shape in Tolkien’s mind, and why it could also appear with such vividness in my own. But simultaneously, it occurred to me that I couldn’t imagine a better depiction of what depression feels like. I don’t know. Maybe your experience of depression is not illuminated by the presence of hobbits, but mine is.

Anyway. Discuss.

*I’m not really counting. There are too many to actually bother counting.

One thought on “Ezra’s crackpot theory #425*”

  1. It may sound too New Agey to say that good fantasy taps into our unconscious (although it probably does) but I do think that most good (and all great) fantasy has parallels to the real world.

    I’ve often found Tolkien’s habit of overly describing his landscapes to be rather tedious (I get it, you’re into elves and forests, can we move on please?) but that same tendency is used to good effect in the scenes in and around Mordor. As has been pointed out elsewhere, Mordor’s smoky, ashen, pock-marked landscape bears more than a passing resemblance to the WWI battlefields Tolkien experienced. When, for weeks on end, your world is a muddy trench you start to get real familiar with it and I imagine the fear and monotony was oppressive.

    I had a strong reaction years ago while reading Alain Robbe-Grillet’s The Voyeur. The author describes everything precisely, methodically, even geometrically. He will then frequently repeat the scene giving additional details each time. It is at times monotonous but that only makes it feel more eerie. The cumulative effect was a paradoxical one, the more tangible the reality of the world described, the more dream-like (nightmarish, really) and unknowable it became. One had a very unsettling feeling of being inside the mind of a very deranged person. Whether my reaction was psychological or chemical I’ll leave to others to determine.

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