Thursday, June 08, 2006

The World Around the Corner

Recently, a crit partner and I were discussing the possible reasons why so many people have responded so strongly to books like The DaVinci Code, the Anita Blake Series and a host of other recent thrillers, paranormal thrillers, and urban fantasy offerings. Looking at the situation a little more closely, we found that all of these have something in common.

All are set in the modern-day world, and while the degree to which a reader must suspend disbelief may greatly vary from book to book, even the ones with more fantastic elements like vampires or werewolves still manage to leave just this little hint of "What if". What if a werewolf lives on your street, and that dang dog that keeps howling off and on in the neighborhood isn't just a dog? What if you went to school with a descendant of Mary Magdalene and didn't even know it? What if the fey are alive and well and living in Cahokia, Illinois? Most of it sounds pretty unbelievable just to say it like that, but when you sit down and read those books, the what ifs suddenly get up close and personal. Suddenly as the vampire gets into the taxi and gives the driver an address on the outskirts of St. Louis, your brain begins to make a tiny leap of faith. What if? These stories are set in a world that looks very much like ours. The characters don't live in another century, they live in ours. They wear clothes like ours, buy similar takeout, and drive the same kinds of cars.

I think it's something about that extreme level of familiarity in the fictional world vs our own that makes a person's brain want to stretch just a little. After all, it's such a short step from our world into the world of those books, and when you start to think about it, none of us know for absolutely certain what's waiting around that next corner. For those of us drawn to fiction, especially when it's a comparatively realistic fiction, the temptation to wonder is just too irresistable. Scientists, after all, are already developing an "invisibility cloak" that bends light rays around itself. Most of us have heard that old saying, "Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." There is no such thing as an invisibility cloak, right? Wrong, apparently. Sasquatch does not exist. Now tell that to the hundreds of people who have had encounters with one!

Is it such a great leap from our world to that other world right around the corner? Perhaps not. Perhaps we can regain that lost sense of wonder that we had as children. Children have a wonderful gift that many adults lack. They actually take time to consider a possibility before ingrained logic rules it out. They know they can fly, they just don't remember how! They're sure they heard reindeer on the roof. They know magic when they see it, and they know better than anyone that Neverland and Narnia aren't so very far away. Perhaps we adults like those thrillers, urban fantasies, and vampire novels so much because the very familiarity of the worlds in the books brings us just a tiny step closer to that sense of childish wonder that many of us lost so long ago.

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