I’ve published two volumes of short stories from the files of the Fairy Godmothers’Union, True Love Local and a full-length novel, ‘Wonder Guy,’ (Kensington’s Lyrical Press) in which his fairy godmother grants super powers to grad student Greg Roberts — just so he can impress the girl next door.
When I have the opportunity, I like to ask people what they would wish for from a fairy godmother. It shouldn’t surprise me that so many people mention the same things. High on the list is healing – whether for an ailment of one’s own or for loved ones suffering from cancer or other diseases.
Many people also wish for relief from difficult circumstances, and for peace, and protection for their families in an uncertain world.
I might have expected more people to wish for money, and am glad to see so many who think first of the more immediate, human needs that money only exists to serve.
Money often seems to be the real world’s substitute for fairy godmother magic. Money can make the difference between receiving vital medical treatment and medication – or not receiving them. Money can pay for a military, for guns and security systems. It can provide food to the hungry – if there’s someone around who has grown and harvested that food. It can pay for transportation to carry us half-way around the world to visit distant friends and family, it can provide housing and clothing and essential services and pure luxuries… all depending on and presupposing the caring, hard work and ingenuity of the people who produce the goods and who provide the services…
Money only seems like magic. The real magic is in the people, in us; the money is a symbol representing the value of what we can do to change the world.
Money can help with some difficulties, but it can’t return a loved one who has died. The laying on of currency won’t cure the common cold, let alone a cancer. Money can help pay for medical research because it helps support the people with the drive, intelligence and training to do that research. Money can help support the people who care enough to work with those who are stricken by accident or disease, but the magic is in those people who care and dedicate their lives to that work.
It’s when we start thinking about the things money can’t buy that we come close to understanding this true magic. If money were the most valuable thing, why would we spend so much of it trying to extend the life of a sick dog or cat that’s only bound to die eventually anyhow? Or heck, why spend it on anything that doesn’t add to the bottom line of our own finances? Why buy books or music, games or artwork, why spend money on any but the most utilitarian of clothing?
Clearly, people are only willing to part with money because there are things we value more: life and health and the safety and well-being of our loved ones, friends and communities – just to begin with. When basic needs are met, we value beauty and meaning and amusement. Books and stories are important to me because they remind me of just how much I value being involved with people – even imaginary people in imaginary worlds.
(Cross-posted from The Writers’ Vineyard)
Genre fiction, particularly the Romance genre gets a lot of flak from some who prefer a more literary, ‘true-to-life’ brand of fiction. Romance, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and comic book super heroes, all suffer from the sin of being products of wish fulfillment. They allow events far from likely in reality. They allow happy endings. They give people unlikely successes and even super powers.
And you know what? Readers know the real world doesn’t generally work like that. Readers are all too familiar with frustrated dreams, failure and struggle, death and devastating losses. Every step we take contends with gravity. Every breath we draw and exhale passes irreplaceable moments of the limited time we occupy our planet – where countless lives have passed to dust, where empires have risen and fallen to be all but forgotten – look on their works and tremble, look on their works and weep for what is gone.
That’s life. That’s the reality we have no choice but to live with. We do what we can to adapt and adjust and better our world as best we can, and we move on. Readers are not apt to mistake happier fictions for fact.
But things are different in the world of imagination. We can imagine impossibilities. We can imagine anything we can conceive. We can experience the fulfillment of our desires. We have the power.
Consider how convincing a dream can be, how often we experience the wildest, most incredible events without ever questioning them – until we wake up. I have often flown and levitated and performed other magical acts in the worlds of dream. The experiences are genuinely experienced, if not in the world of our physical, consensus reality. Our imaginations can give us real experiences fulfilling real emotional needs. They can evoke real emotional reactions. They can give our minds and hearts some practice at successes we may not expect in life but are far more likely to be achieved if we strive than if we assume failure and never get off the couch.
The challenge of wish-fulfillment fiction is suspension of disbelief. People are so accustomed to the world of struggle, loss and failure that readers can’t believe fantasies of extraordinary attainment unless they include obstacles and conflicts and losses in the course of reaching for the prize.
In fantasy we can have the lover of our hearts desires, the fabulous mansion or quiet garden of our dreams – and without all the complications that reality entails. We can have the happy ending without worries about property taxes or paying the gardeners…
Critics of wish-fulfillment fantasies may claim that they give us unrealistic expectations, but we know better. We’ve lived in this world long enough – at least – to have learned to read. We’re born knowing how to cry. We learn soon enough that our dreams are much bigger than reality can generally fill – and that fantasy can bring us solace for all that reality denies.