Category Archives: fantasy

The Enlightenment Run Amok: On Fiction and Truth

Arabella, the heroine of Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote, shares similarities, not surprisingly, with Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote. She views the world through romantic French novels and fully expects adventures around every corner. Why no villains have yet attempted to kidnap her, nor any heroes fought duels to win her heart is one of her life’s big mysteries. Ultimately, she’s set straight on this; heroes are mythical. Villains, of course, aren’t, but in an enlightened society, maybe, just maybe villains will go the way of their heroic counterparts.

After her disillusionment in romance occurs, she asks this question of her scientifically minded doctor:

“The Fables of Aesop, said Arabella, are among those of which the Absurdity discovers itself, and the Truth is comprised in the Application; but what can be said of those Tales which are told with the solemn Air of historical Truth, and if false convey no Instruction?”

The rational doctor admits that the fiction which has formed Arabella’s thoughts can’t be defended–this fiction being of the untrue rather than the true variety. He, therefore, attempts to reform her mind by gently asking her leading questions, such as this one: “How is any oral, or written Testimony, confuted or confirmed?”

Her response is about as reasonable as you’d expect from a girl intelligent enough to read French romances: “By comparing it . . . with the Testimony of others, or with the natural Effects and standing Evidence of the Facts related, and sometimes by comparing it with itself.”

From this answer, I understand that Arabella has a sound mind, along with enough intellect to make a proper study of the facts outside French romance, rather than inside, because those aren’t facts [which we’ve already established!]. By extension, I also know Arabella will eventually concede the truth. Her romance novels don’t parallel the England of her day and age. She was a fool to believe they did–a wise fool, but a fool nonetheless.

While the setting straight, or healing, of Arabella’s mind might be of some relief to other readers, as well as to Arabella’s honorable suitor, Mr. Glanville, I can’t help feeling let down, as though I, as well as the heroine, has lost something beautiful when she realizes that chivalry, adventure, and the divine art of love are fantasies. Although I’m always disappointed in the end of The Female Quixote, I refuse to conclude that Lennox merely meant to instruct society on the type of novels young women ought to read, favoring Richardson over Madeleine de Scudery.

No, the following exchange doesn’t support this interpretation:

The doctor claims that “[Arabella’s] Writers have instituted a World of their own, and that nothing is more different from a human being, than Heroes or Heroines.” Her writers–and yes, he gives Arabella ownership of them–have created their own worlds. They exist as false worlds within false words, and create false notions within minds–especially the minds of young girls.

Arabella gives a frank reply to the doctor: “I am afraid, Sir, that the Difference is not in Favour of the present World.”

I have to agree with Arabella. Two hundred and sixty years have passed since Lennox first published her novel, and our hyper-rational, post-enlightenment society has not yet eradicated villains, even if the heroes have fled from our collective unconscious.

Oh, heroes, where have you gone? I can hear your horses’ hooves pounding through history, only to come to a clattering halt outside the palace of my modern mind.

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Yellow is the Color of . . .

Writing is a way of living out fantasies that would either be improbable to truly experience, or complete letdowns when experienced on this side of the looking glass.

One of my long-time writing fantasies involves hot dogs. Hot dogs are lovely. They taste marvelous on a bun with mustard and chopped onions. For many years now, I have envisioned myself, or another blond heroine, walking through a park somewhere in Portland or another rainy city, while wearing a bright yellow raincoat. Mysteriously, as though this were a fantasy novel in the style of Eager, I happen upon a hot dog stand that appears out of nowhere. Where once an empty square of brick work had withstood the wet weather, a cart on wheels now awaits me, the pleasant aroma of food wafting out into the rain.

I can’t resist, of course; I’m pulled, as if by force, to the chubby vendor, with his green cap pulled over his graying black hair, and his neat white apron tied around his girth. I nearly tell him I want to buy two, but, instead, hand over a $1.50 for one regular all-beef dog. I then carefully add the requisite fixings: the mustard, the chopped onions, the relish, and the peperoncinis.

“You sure know how to make a hot dog,” says the vendor with a wink.

I smile demurely and walk away, trying to find shelter from the rain that is now pouring down on the grass, the brick walkway, and all of the oak leaves blown around the trees. There really isn’t any shelter. With mock desperation, I dart under the thick branches of one of the gnarly oaks, and eat the hot dog in a few bites. Its steaminess fills my cold belly. It really is magic, you see. Now I’m warm and filled and happy, and the rain can continue to fall all day–undoubtedly, it will–but I am safe from the dreary cold.

I wipe the vestiges of mustard on my yellow raincoat, where it won’t show and will be washed away, anyway, and throw away the empty paper carton. Then, I shove my hands in my coat pockets, searching for more spare change. I feel a few quarters; I just might have enough for another! Gleefully, I run back toward the brick square, but the cart is gone. There’s no sign of it, not in any direction.

Shall I ruin my story with the reality of the endless, cold rain of the Pacific Northwest, the kind of rain that seeps right into the bones and can’t be touched with one small hot dog? Shall I ruin it by diving into a full explanation of why nobody should eat hot dogs due to the dubious nature of the animal parts encased therein, the MSG, the corn syrup, and the preservatives?

No, I suppose I shouldn’t. Tampering with the magic of fantasy and story-land could be destructive. It could blow the reality of the physical world sky high, or out into space, or somewhere . . .

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