Feeling Fantastic

How are you today?  I am fantastic.

Now the basic meaning of fantastic is: pertaining to fantasy.

Fantasy is used by psychologists mainly to describe those brief daydreams where everything is going my way; where briefly, in our minds, the world can be as perfect as it could or should be.

“If I were a rich man….I’d build a great big house with rooms by the dozen right in the middle of the town….I’d see my wife, my Gulde, looking like a rich man’s wife with a proper double chin….I’d have the time that I lack to sit in the synagogue and pray….and I’d discuss the holy books with the learned men seven hours every day….”

Of course you and I and each person have our own versions of this sort of dream, whether it be wealth or Walden, time to pray or time to party.

But if you are not a psychologist, fantasy usually means something different: a genre of literature that draws on myths and fairy tales. As C.S. Lewis described: “the fantastic, stories about gods, ghosts, ghouls, demons, fairies, monsters, etc… an imaginative impulse as old as the human race…”

Its modern form was born, in no small measure, out of the popularity of Professor Tolkien’s work, and the themes he established are still going strong. Courage in the face of overwhelming evil, ordinary people neither especially strong or wise, but who nevertheless will not lie down and die when all hope is lost, when success could only come through some impossible miracle or “eucatastrophe.”

Tolkein himself described his greatest hero thus:

“One tiny Hobbit against all the evil the world could muster. A sane being would have given up, but Samwise burned with a magnificent madness, a glowing obsession to surmount every obstacle, to find Frodo, destroy the Ring, and cleanse Middle Earth of its festering malignancy. He knew he would try again. Fail, perhaps. And try once more. A thousand, thousand times if need be, but he would not give up the quest.”

 

“But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.”

A final, and oldest meaning of the word fantastic, is also suggested by the Lewis quote above, and survives especially in conjunction with “beasts.” Fantastic: imaginary, strange, improbable.   Unicorns, manticores, and hippogryphs.

But perhaps this best describes you.  Chesterton, in his poetry and fiction, had a particular gift for expressing the wild strangeness and improbability of this world and we who inhabit it.

 

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