Life Desk :
As the world witnesses a fantasy boom - from Frodo's journey to Potter's wand, Baahubali's strength to the fight for the Throne - we ask why stories of beasts, witches, fairies and magic, have always captivated the human mind?
It is a tale well known that JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, among other authors, used to meet at an Oxford pub called The Eagle and the Child to discuss their respective books, The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. The Inklings, as their small group of fantasy writers was called, sat at a corner of this pub to expand the narrative scope of fantasy, which, at that time (1930s), hadn't earned the respect of critics, or even thought to be serious literary works.
Things have changed. In 2017, JK Rowling's Harry Potter series celebrated 20 years of the first book, which had the world pin all its hopes on a boy wizard. The Indian film Baahubali 2: The Conclusion did the unthinkable by crossing all known cash register collections in India, to sit pretty as one of the best box office collections in the world! And as the most-successful TV show in the world, Game of Thrones - adapted from George RR Martin's book series A Song of Ice and Fire - nears its end game, we cannot help but think about the fantasy fever that has gripped the world since the Inklings sat at that corner table a century ago.
What has changed? Author Samit Basu, known especially for his GameWorld trilogy, says, "Stories of imagination and speculative fiction allow us to examine our present-day world through the lens of a different one. Other than that the reasons for loving fantasy today are the same as they have always been... a sense of wonder, an ability to see the world through a new lens and gain a deeper understanding of it."
The Fantasy boom
Moinak Biswas, professor of Film Studies, Jadavpur University, says folklore, more importantly, storytelling, is how small communities all over the world, over centuries, have survived.
Director Shekhar Kapur agrees. He says, we love fantasy because these stories take us back to our roots, back to an era where theatre and storytelling were the only forms of entertainment. As for the fantasy boom, Kapur explains, "From a director's perspective, scripts based on fantasy have a far wider canvas than normal films. This gives filmmakers the licence to expand their creativity. At the same time, it gives the audience a different perspective - style, grandeur etc. It's win-win for both."
Once upon a time we would all listen to stories our grandmothers told us as the night got dark and eerily quiet. Huddled close to siblings or clutching our pillows, we'd listen with bated breath about tales of monsters, fairies, knights, dwarfs, magic and mermaids. That was all in the past.
The cocoon of folklore
In our post-nuclear family structure, our introduction to fantasy is mostly through video game consoles, fantasy movie merchandise like Iron Man tees, creature theme parks, movies and books apart. Sumit Chakrabarti, head of the department, English, Presidency University, explaining the current obsession of adults with fantasy, says, "One very easy psycho-political explanation is that the frenzied world we live in right now, is somewhere desperately trying to seek a balance; and we, as adults, want to relook at our sense of wonder in the fantasy world to find even a semblance of peace if any, and be cocooned in it."
In short, fantasy provides a safety net to a jaded generation hurtling towards catastrophe. As Arka Sengupta, product marketing analyst, Oracle India Pvt Ltd, says, "After a hard day's toil, who doesn't want to ride horses that fly, tame dragons that spit fire at our command or rule mythical cities?"
Fantasy is catharsis
Psychiatrist Dr Sanjay Chugh explains why: "Fantasies stretch our imagination in all dimensions. It allows us to dream of the unthinkable, to let our minds run in an unrestrained manner. This free will is either limited or unavailable in a real world which is full of daily stressors of work, home and social responsibilities."
Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan goes a step further and says fantasy is absolutely crucial to our existence. Why? "Because it expands the conscious, i.e. awakens the mind like nothing else can, to gives us a certain sense of possibility that we think is unattainable." Flights of imagination - be it dragons, giants, dwarfs, or possibilities of our futures - allow us to feel we are not repressed. But more than that, it allows us to feel human.
Sometimes, to believe in the magic, dragons, aliens, witches, fairies, is to retain the most humane parts of us, which the world is seeing less of with each passing day. As the great English fantasy author Terry Pratchett had once said: "Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape."
"Fantasy is the root to learning philosophy."-Amish Tripathi, author
In India, fantasy and mythology mean the same thing. What's changed is the fact that we are re-interpreting old mythical stories to answer specific problems that beset our generation. We used to do that in ancient times, but the tradition stopped for a good 200 years or so... The current boom is a good thing for our society, mainly because fantasy has always been the root to learning philosophy. While listening to what is hopefully an engaging story, you get answers to larger questions in life - moral ambiguity, our purpose of existence, seeking happiness, or trying to alleviate pain and suffering.