In This Interview oddball fantasy/SF writer M. John Harrison says:
"My feeling about escapist fiction has softened a little down the years but it has never really changed. I think it's undignified to read for the purposes of escape. After you grow up, you should start reading for other purposes. You should have a more complicated relationship with fiction than simple entrancement. If you read for escape you will never try to change your life, or anyone else's. It's a politically barren act, if nothing else. The overuse of imaginative fiction enables people to avoid the knowledge that they are actually alive. (In fact, various evasions, various kinds of fantasy, seem to me to be a kind of bad politics in themselves, the default politics of the day, through which we maintain our Western illusions of freedom and choice.)"
He has put his finger on one of the greatest problems I've had in my life. Once Harrison's words would have filled me with panicked resentment. Until a few years ago I engaged entertainment for two reasons: One was to learn how to function as an entertainer myself, but the main one was to replace the scary real world with a soothing artificial world. I watched The Neverending Story and dreamed of finding a book that would whisk me away to a colorful world of bald princesses, flying dogs and comfortable Messianic status for myself. I once said to a friend "Oz is better than real life," and I said it without irony.
Now I try to engage life in an active and expansive way instead of the timid and closed-off approach I've always had. The unpredictability and unfolding immanence of life is a pleasure to me where once it was a terror. Improv has a lot to do with this, but my engagement with Harrison's work has clarified the importance of fiction as fiction, rather than replacement reality. Thanks, M. John.