“Fantasy is as essential as air, forming the medium or the ether in which all the other activities of mind take place…Fantasy, in fact, plays a major role in building the world, in guiding the choices and adaptations we make, and the relationships we form. Fantasies are among the most powerful of the catalysts that infuse and organise our lives, dictating romantic, familial, and professional goals; fueling behaviour; engendering plans for the future. In turn, our experiences, and the myths and stories of the culture in which we live, shape our fantasies.”Ethel S. Person, M.D. – By Force of Fantasy
We had an awesome night of adventuring in Dungeons & Dragons land. We found ourselves facing off against a four-armed copper state brought to life by some fanatical cult members, who, like all cult members, had some weird delusional version of how the world should work. And being cultists, they were willing to bring about their demented version of reality by any means necessary.
Vulred Sarren, the wood elf, played by me, was having an off night. He couldn’t land a blow to literally save his life. He must have somehow offended the gods. Even Lady Luck turned her back on him. It was a good thing he had companions – a human ranger, a dwarf cleric, a gnome rogue, and a gnome wizard who, coincidentally, was also having a bad night. None of her spells were working.
None of us fancied fighting this living copper statue in the cellar where we found it, so we lured it outside the inn.
I smugly cast a Wall of Wind to hold it in place. But before I could congratulate myself on my ingenuity, the living statue flew over my 15-foot-high wall and landed right in the middle of us. Our jaws went slack, and the fight was on.
I was 13 when my friend Brian, who was three years older than me, introduced me to Dungeons & Dragons. I was already heavily into heroic fantasy and its kin, sword and sorcery fantasy. I used to save up my lunch money and allowance until I had enough to buy an armful of fantasy books from Barnes and Noble at least once a month. I used to love it when the weekend rolled around and I could head to the mall and browse the fantasy shelves. I’d spend a couple of hours in the shop admiring the covers of the sword and sorcery books and reading the back covers until I found a few that really grabbed my attention.
By the time I graduated from high school, I had a collection of hundreds of these fantasy books. My prized books were all of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian novels and Marvel’s adaptation of the novels in The Savage Sword of Conan, the black-and-white magazine-style comic. True story: when I left home for West Point, my mom, who hated these books, she called them demon books, gave away my whole collection. But she knew I would have never forgiven her if she had given away my Conan collection.
During my time at West Point, my fantasy obsession faded. I threw myself into history books instead. I had determined I was going to be a Great War captain like Caesar, Hannibal, Grant, and Patton. If I wanted to accomplish that, I knew I had to be a student of war. I studied all the masters: Sun Tzu, Napoleon, Clausewitz, Rommel, Patton, and Grant, among others.
After I graduated from West Point, my love of heroic fantasy mainly lived on through whatever movies came out in that genre. My reading was mostly occupied with current events and history. I loved history books almost as much as I had loved sword and sorcery books. I ended up majoring in History and by the time I graduated, I had amassed a huge history book collection.
After the army, I let history give way to business books and self-help and personal development books. I think, in the process, I lost a vital part of who I am at my core.
It is this missing piece that I am trying to find again.
So I was ecstatic when my wife tagged me in a Facebook post of a local Dungeon and Dragons group that was looking for new players. I answered the call for new adventures quickly. This was my chance to get back into the game. That was a few weeks ago. I am now into second week with the group on a big campaign to stop a cultist group that has been terrorising the local villagers and using them as sacrifices in their bizarre rituals.
It’s easy to dismiss fantasy as a detachment from reality, a waste of time, especially for responsible adults. The only myth you’re rewarded for believing in is consumerism and the capitalist narrative that supports it.
But as psychologists like Carl Jung and James Hillman suggest, by doing this and cutting ourselves off from our mythic imagination, we inhibit our personal and spiritual growth by forcing our psyche to accept a limited version of itself.
The two books that really opened my eyes so I could see just how detached I have become from my true self and living a life of meaning are:
And the third book, which I opened this post with, speaks directly to the importance of fantasy: By Force of Fantasy: How We Make Our Lives
I think I need to do a deeper dive on each of these books, so I’ll mention them here and address them further in a future post.0