Stepping into the unknown
Friday, February 28, 2014
From "Escaping Into Ourselves" by Susan Cooper (Celebrating Children's Books, 1981):
"Perhaps I speak only for myself, perhaps it's different for other writers; but for me, the making of a fantasy is quite unlike the relatively ordered procedure of writing any other kind of book. I've never actually thought: 'I am writing fantasy'; one simply sits down to write whatever book is knocking to be let out. But in hindsight, I can see the peculiar differences in approach. When working on a book which turns out to be a fantasy novel, I exist in a state of continual astonishment. The work begins with a deep breath and a blindly trusting step into the unknown; I know where I'm going, and who's going with me, but I have no real idea of what I shall find along the way, or whom I'll meet. Each time, I am striking out into a strange land, listening for the music that will tell me which way to go. And I am always overcome by wonder, and a kind of unfocused gratitude, when I arrive; and I always think of Eliot:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time....
"One of the best 'realistic' novelists (how I hate labels -- but there's no way round them) said to me once, cheerfully rude, 'Oh, you fantasy people have it so easy, you don't know you're born. If there's a problem in your plot -- bingo, you bring in a bit of magic and the problem's gone.
"No, no, no, fantasy doesn't work that way; anyone cherishing such theories is bound for trouble. If he or she tries to sail our perilous seas in such a ship, he is likely to end up with a book which may be beautifully written, hugely entertaining, full of bits of magic -- but which somehow isn't fantasy. True fantasy is John Masefield's The Box of Delights, or Alan Garner's The Owl Service: books which cast a spell so subtle and overwhelming that it has overpowered the reader's imagination, carried him outside all the rules, before he has noticed what is happening. To some degree I doubt whether Masefield or Garner or the rest knew what was happening either; they simply heard the music, and employed all their considerable talent to write it down. You can't write fantasy on purpose. Like poetry, it is a kind of happy accident which overtakes certain writers before they are born."
The pictures above are: "Carrying her Train (from The Happy Prince)," "Beauty and the Beast," "Hans in his Garden (from The Happy Prince)," "Casting a Spell," and "The Lion in Love" by Charles Robinson (1870-1937). He was the son of an illustrator, and his brothers Thomas Heath Robinson and William Heath Robinson were also illustrators.