Coming out of the Wardrobe

fantasy-freaksSome of us love to explore speculative worlds. We do it for many reasons: the desire to escape, sure, but also a more positive urge to explore. Some want to make predictions about the future, or understand more about the historical past, while others find that real world issues can be explored with surprising clarity in fictional landscapes. Others like fantasy for the chance to explore not places, but characters: how do humans react when put in unusual, surprising, or imagined situations?

But I know that some of you just don’t get it. How can we derive any sense from imaginary worlds? Isn’t there enough to explore in the real world? Don’t we find the whole fantasy/science fiction experience a bit frivolous? A bit childish?

The difference in our reactions to speculative fiction aren’t just a minor gap; they’re a chasm, a gulf of misunderstanding. The members of one book group that I frequent get along wonderfully on almost every aspect of literature except this subject. A few of us jump into C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe as often as we can: exploring many speculative lands and trying on every costume we can find. Others think the whole notion is hogwash: they can’t see anything but some moldering and garish costumes in the shallow confines of the wardrobe. A middle group quietly dips into the wardrobe, enjoying an occasional covert visit, but unwilling to be seen as immature. Disrespect, guilt, misunderstanding, and a whole lot of holier-than-thou condescension surround our speculative fiction closet.

If this kind of divide exists in your book group, consider a discussion of Ethan Gilsdorf’s Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks. It’s the story of one man’s attempt to understand his own love for fantasy. In midlife, with relationships unsure, his grip on his own past  in question, Gilsdorf decides to plunge back into the world of his teenage years with a vengeance. Not only does he play Dungeons and Dragons again, he trolls new depths, traveling the world to visit conventions, play in LARPs, hang out with Harry Potter tribute bands, join SCA re-enactor weekends, work on a medieval castle in France, and battle online beasties.

It’s not a perfect book. Gilsdorf is too obsessed with the idea of fantasy as escape. He doesn’t reach any profound conclusions about either his present or his past. Still, his ambivalence makes him a good foil for readers on both sides of the divide–he’s both fascinated by fantasy and appalled by his own geekiness. By exploring many aspects of the fantasy lifestyle, he helps those who remain steadfastly mundane understand just what fans are doing with their time. I’m not sure Gilsdorf entirely understands himself, but he shows many of the different reasons that people embrace fantasy. While I doubt any of your readers will think it’s the best book ever, I can guarantee that this book will raise interesting discussions, and that’s why we get together, isn’t it? Gilsdorf’s book provides an excellent opportunity for us to go home with a little more understanding of each other’s preferences.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

1 Comment on "Coming out of the Wardrobe"

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  1. misha says:

    Glad to see this review! Ethan is from Marlboro College, my alma mater!

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