imagining Can we imagine a world?

As fantasists—as artists—as musicians—it’s what we do. And it’s what we try to get people to pay us to do. Whether we draw the utopia we long for or the absurd we confront, or the dreams we puzzle over, we imagine worlds.

Worlds of unutterable darkness, rent suddenly and violently by the silent, gentle onslaught of light.

Worlds of unquenchable light, darkness beleaguered, but unconquerable.

Worlds incomprehensibly strange, but oddly unforgettable.

Can we imagine a world?

Sub-creation is more than swords and spaceships, castles and conquests. Or at least it can be. Sub-creation is the opportunity to imagine the world different, a world like but unlike our own. We create, we explore, we ponder. We sub-create—through fantasy or other genres, through art or music, through dance or craft—to wander like Smith of Wooten Major, star browed, through worlds beyond our comprehension, which yet help us comprehend our own.

For fantasy specifically, there are, I think, three predominant ways our imagined worlds confront and explore this one. They’re three different structures, if you will, on which our worlds hang.

First, you have the utopia. We sub-create the world as we think it should be. Free of discrimination, of fear, of poverty, for instance. A world without class or struggle. A world at peace with itself, and with others.

This vision will differ from each author, in many ways. And it will not be ‘perfect’, in that sense of utopia. Otherwise there’s no story to tell, since, as Tolkien pointed out, the happiest times often make the most boring reading. There’s still conflict here. People still misunderstand each other. Social development hasn’t gone far enough.

The utopia explores the price of realized dreams. In a world without class, what other struggles will take form? In a world without discrimination, what subtle prejudices will the human (or elf or dwarf or golem) mind devise? In a world a world free from fear, will people perhaps have forgotten to look over their shoulders in the dark?

This sobers and strengthens our resolve, our ideals.  These things can be realized, the utopia says, and here’s what it will look like. But there will be other matters, worse things, perhaps, lulled now by the clamor we seek to still. Will we be ready to confront them? Will our ideals hold even after they’ve been realized?

Can we imagine this world?

Second, there’s the absurd. This presents a world much like our own—grief-ridden, class-laden, corrupt. The characters inhabiting the world engage similar struggles to the ones we face. They fight against discrimination—whether towards themselves or others or both. They fight against war. They confront and strive against a world of ills that sounds—if we stop to listen, often enough like home.

The absurd slaps us in the face with our own daily struggle, but detaches it from us. We can hope and fear and weep and overcome with others—like us in some ways, like who we’d like to become. It explores paths our own struggles can take, the dangers that lie on those paths, shows us the hearts of people who find victory in the struggle, and people the struggle consumes.

If these people can see their world change, even in the smallest ways, can’t we? If these people can despair, can allow bitterness and hatred to consume them, can’t we? What can we do to attain the one, to avoid the other? Our ideals are torn, reexamined, challenged, reaffirmed.

Can we imagine this world?

Third, most subtle and unexpected, is the dream. The normal bounds of order are stretched and convoluted. We walk in this dream world, riddled and bewildered. We meet March Hares and Other Mothers. The logical sequence of events isn’t. Another, mystically madcap logic is at play.

This world is nothing like ours.  Or it is like ours, squinted through an improbable mirror. Or it’s just something—different. Other.

Often we don’t realize it has anything to do with our ideals or our struggle until we’ve left it. Then it haunts us. We can’t forget. And we discover the dream-world has left us changed.

Can we imagine these worlds?

We need imagination. We need the questions it forces us to ask. We need the continual, thrusting questions to restructure our view of the world. The ability to imagine alters and reforms our ability to reason, and presents us with what is, and what can be.

The drastic sense that the world can, and perhaps, should be better, draws us forward into the struggles we face—whatever they may be—with courage, even if the world itself is against us. As Chesterton wrote, St. George ‘can shake his sword at the dragon, even if it is everything; even if the empty heavens over his head are only the huge arch of its open jaws.’ The conviction of another world gives us courage for this one.

Can we, in the end, imagine the world?

2 thoughts on “imagining

  1. I really liked this post, Mr. Pond. It puts these worlds into perspective for me. Each world you describe holds pull with me. The first that came to my mind was the Utopia. I remember when I was a child, I used to call Tomorrowland at Disneyland – Utopia. Tomorrowland was a Utopia to me. The rockets, the electric cars, the submarines, riding around in a larvae-shaped cart that took you through the universe. Space Mountain. That was funny. Space is a mountain or it’s a mountain of space. Weird, but I dug it. Utopia was always slick and futuristic in my mind. It still is. Some Utopias I can recognize by their zeitgeist of creation. The 1970s had a very distinctive feel of Utopia. Everything was egg-shaped and white. Furniture, cars, clothing, plastic. Now Utopia has an idustrial feel. Black, metallic, dusty. Sometimes when I’m driving on the freeway – I imagine monorails on top of me. No need for cars and no signs of traffic and pollution. Sculptures of spheres have a Utopian feel for me. I don’t know why that is. Space feels Utopian to me. Colonies on the Moon. Growing asparagus in moondust. That sort of thing.

    How does one get there?

    But Utopia is not a place. It’s an ideology. A state of mind. I like Utopia a lot. It might be boring as heck – but I can imagine liking it that way. I think Utopia already exists in small patches in one’s life.

  2. I think, Joivre, if we didn’t have those smatterings of Utopia–something to fuel our dreams and ideals–we wouldn’t have the strength to strive for it. So maybe that’s why they’re there. Perhaps we get there by recognizing it around us, nurturing it, praying and struggling for it. Perhaps we get there by carrying it in ourselves.

    Hope, after all, is the assurance of things not see.

    Maybe it’s Space Mountain that I keep making out of my mashed potatoes…

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