The Importance of Fictional Worlds

I’m on FaceTime with my best friend, Alli, and we’re both scrolling through a Twitter account that tweets scenarios based off of astrological signs (apparently it’s the new trend). We find one called “the ‘gets more emotionally attached to fictional characters than real people’ squad.” The signs associated with it are Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Gemini, Cancer, and Libra. She knows I’m an Aquarius, and she starts laughing. Confused, I ask her what’s so funny, and she just says, “Claire, that’s so you it’s not even funny.” (This completely contradicted her laughing at me, but I elected to ignore that.) I couldn’t argue with her because I know that it’s true. I love me some fictional characters! TV shows, movies, books, you name it — I’ve probably cried over it.

When people say “fiction” or “fictional world,” most people think of the greats like the Harry Potter franchise, Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars, which is great! So many people love those books/movies and their characters, and I think it’s so vital that people have something stable that they can always turn to. Some people have their families, other people have friends, and some very lucky people have both. But for those who don’t feel supported or loved enough for whatever reason, it’s the best feeling in the world to have a fictional world to escape into.

As a child I liked reading, but I would always get distracted and never actually finish a book. I never fully began to appreciate it until I got older. As you age, you learn a thing or two about life, and one of those first lessons is simply the fact that life is hard. Now, I’m sure that I wasn’t on the brink of a mental breakdown when I first became a reading addict in fourth grade (shout out to my man Rick Riordan for writing the Percy Jackson series), but as time went on and tweenage turned to teenage, life seemed as though it was “over” 86% of the time.

Oh, middle school, what a trip. When I first read The Lightning Thief, a whole new world opened up to me. I read almost the entire series and became a blood thirsty demon, stopping at nothing to get my next book. Terrifying image, right? Anyway, after my demonic episodes died down a little and I delved into any book I could get my hands on, life was good. I had a safety net to guide me through the trials and tribulations of my late grade school and middle school life. Hermione Granger was there when I thought that everyone hated me (all because there wasn’t room at the lunch table). Peeta Mellark was there when a boy on the bus so graciously pointed out that, amazingly, I was a mammal with body hair on my arms (Who would have thought such a thing was possible!). You get my point.

Fictional books gave me a shelter from all of the negativity, and they still do. When you’re young, you dream of being a princess or a knight in shining armor, and it’s deemed acceptable; but, at some point you’re supposed to stop playing pretend. How does it make sense to put an age limit on dreams when, in all actuality, we need them the most as we grow?

Neil Gaiman puts this elegantly: “Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.”

This past school year, I began my freshman year of high school. Scary stuff. Because this was such a big transition and everything was so wildly different, I subconsciously came to the conclusion that books alone were not enough, and I turned to Netflix for extra fiction-therapy. I would get lost in people’s lives that were not my own, and I slowly but surely went back to my charming, semi-sane self again through Friends, The Mindy Project (I had to turn to Hulu for that one), and The Office. I began forgetting about my everyday anxieties and began focusing on who was whose lobster, whether Mindy would EVER find love, and how Michael Scott managed to keep his job.

Now, I obviously can’t base all of my happiness on fictional worlds, but being able to delve into them makes the unbearable bearable in the same way that heroin eases the minds of rock stars. Okay, bad example, but you get the point.

“I think it’s good for everyone to have something where they can kind of just forget about life and reality for a bit. You’d be surprised how much it helps.” — A fellow bookworm named Ashley

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