The Balm of Fantasy
I’m deeply drawn to the fantasy genre; ever since I was a little girl. From the crazy world Alice in Wonderland to the lyrical one of Inkheart, I love to get lost in the world of dreams. My childhood was painted in the magical landscapes of Remedios Varo, Dalí and Frida Kahlo. I felt a deep connection with Kahlo in particular: through escaping into a created world, I could also cope with the real one. By developing and making my imagination strong, I could deal with school bullying and loneliness. Up to date, to immerse my audience in the dreamlike quality of fiction (either literary or cinematic) is one of my main creative goals.
Now I have children of my own. I experience daily their own approach to imagination and fantasy, and every day they remind me why I love storytelling so much. Fiction is a very powerful tool to understand and grasp the world around us. We experiment and experience through placing ourselves in hypothetical situations. We can be as bad as we want and not suffer the consequences. Or be good and learn what the rewards might be. That is the beauty and power of fairy tales (in their original, not sanitized version), as Bruno Bettleheim points out in his book, The Uses of Enchantment: the meaning and importance of Fairy Tales. Fantasy helps create a protective bubble where you can control what happens around you.
We need imagination and to let our mind run free. That is the genesis of creation.
Under the Fantasy genre we can find Horror, Sci-fi and Fairy Tales as sub-genres. They all deal with created worlds, but each of them uses a different focus and set of genre rules. Horror explores the darkness of the human soul, regardless of whether the source of terror is human or not. Sci-fi focuses on creating futuristic worlds based on scientific development. Fairy Tales (as well as fables and myths) tend to have a very clear good-bad protagonist-antagonist, and a lesson in the end where good tends to triumph over evil. I once was asked why I love horror, so here are my reflections on this topic.
The human mind fascinates me. Understanding the source and reason of evil is profoundly appealing to me. Fear creates a gut reaction in the audience, which cannot be explained or controlled. It doesn’t produce feelings, but emotions. These emotions are so deeply seeded in the brain (the amygdala, it turns out, and you can read a little more about that here), that we can sometimes recreate the emotion just by remembering the event that caused us to be afraid. One of the best compliments I’ve received on my thesis film, Anima, is that it has given some viewers nightmares. That means that the whole experience created an emotional impact. Through words, visuals and sounds, I can provide an experience for my audience. That is the power of film. And that is the reason for horror: you don’t watch it; you live it.
Horror also allows for experimentation and introspection. By grasping other people’s darkness, your come to understand your own. I’m not afraid of battling my private ghosts and monsters. I just choose to do so in writing or film.
The Emotional Release
I was reading an article on Why Fear is Fun, and it also made me realize something else about fear. Once the fearful event passes, there’s an intense sense of relief. It is like going through hell and finding your way back. The feeling you get in the end is of profound release. After watching or experiencing extreme fear (like in a movie or a park attraction) we tend to feel happy and sometimes even exhilarated. It is like letting all the tension and stress go like a waterfall.
As a writer, I find that by creating a story powered by my fears, I end up diffusing their horror. They make them livable. Karen Thompson Walker, on her TED talk about fear, points out the creative power that fear has. It really is a wonderful creative engine. And it keeps what I write honest and coming from the gut. After many years of writing and working in the entertainment industry, I know that whatever shakes me to my core has the same reaction in my audience.
Now… what is your biggest fear? Let me know, and I might write something about that on my next blog post, next week!