When people criticize fantasy or romanticism as making people out of touch with reality, it’s interesting that they seem to only imagine fantasy as positive or better than real life, as though one can never pretend something is worse than it actually is. As an example of this merely look to any work of realism in writing or film. Realism is defined by Google as “(in art and literature) the movement or style of representing familiar things as they actually are.” and on Wikipedia “Broadly defined as ‘the faithful representation of reality’, realism in the arts is the attempt to represent subject matter truthfully, without artificiality and avoiding artistic conventions, implausible, exotic and supernatural elements.” If you pay attention, most, if not all, works labeled as ‘realism’ are either miserable, sordid, banal or some combination of the three. But, why is it that our culture believes these to be the true attributes of reality? Miserable, sordid, banal. I have never heard someone say a movie was deceptively fantastic or make-believe if it were very dark or miserable. Neither have I heard anyone say that the real world isn’t like that. As a matter of fact, if I bring up the fact that I dislike a movie, due to these properties, the usual defense of the movie is that it’s so much more real than a fairytale and it’s good to watch ‘authentic’ and gritty movies to keep ourselves grounded in reality. I will leave my reflections on the wretched concept of authenticity for another day. Right now I think realism is enough.
I think the reason that people view realism as a faithful representation of reality is that they, the realists, have accepted the view that the real world is truly worse than what you imagine or normally perceive. Anything better than bad is an illusion. Prince charming turns out to be a villain. The one time you attempt to do what you think is right it turns out to be wrong. Love at first sight is impossible because even love does not exist. Schopenhauer said love is merely a ‘blind biological urge.’ In other words it doesn’t exist as love, merely as a deception our biology gives us to encourage actions critical for our species’ survival. For Schopenhauer, love is merely the perpetuation of the species through rose-coloured glasses. It’s all merely cold, practical, biological processes. But, it must be noted: this is not reality, this is merely Schopenhauer’s, and the realists’, beliefs concerning reality. It is their worldview, just as the romanticists’ tales, at least the original ones, were written through the lense of their beliefs and worldview. The tales were created to remind them of how they believed the world to truly be. It was to keep them grounded in reality. Fairy tales were written to ground people in reality. Which is exactly what the realists claim to be doing.
The positions, both of the realist and the romanticist, are equivalent, though opposite. This is not a case of one position showing things as they really are and the other showing things as we’d like to see them. It is a fight between two worldviews: one which says the world is much worse than our perception and one which says the world is much better than our perception. Therefore, to each side, the other appears to be merely fantastic and delusional. But which one is right? They are entirely at odds. But, I think I can safely say that the Christian position is firmly on the side of the romanticist and not on the side of the realist.
The realist believes as the Pagans did before Christ. The Pagans believed that the world seemed beautiful but was actually ugly. The Greek gods are less noble than the Greeks. The streams of cool babbling water are inhabited by nymphs waiting to drown thirsty travelers. If the gods notice you they strike you down or curse you for being more skilled or beautiful than them. Plato, who had more similarities to the Christians than Pagans, said the only way we could be saved was through the Creator (not the gods of the pantheon but the Creator even of the gods) sending a man who was truly good to earth. This man would tell us that goodness, truth, and beauty were real and not just an illusion. But even Plato’s tale ends by declaring that the Creator would never care enough about we mere mortals to ever bother. We are already doomed.
The Christians, on the other hand, believed the world seemed beautiful but was actually better. They believed that the world seemed beautiful but was actually more incredibly beautiful than you could imagine. The Christian God is far more noble than the Christian could ever be. The streams of cool babbling water are a gift from the Creator Himself, created intentionally for you to drink. It was impossible to be more skilled or beautiful than God, for He is the one that gave you those gifts; freely and without spite. When Christ came He showed the world that God did care and that not only did he send a man to show us goodness, truth, and beauty, but that man was God Himself and he was willing to die for us to save us from the very things Plato believed would make Him disinterested in our fate.
Therefore I believe that the romanticist is right and the realist is wrong. We, as Christians, must go back to viewing the world as Christians and not as Pagans. As romanticists and not as realists. When we die we do not become non-existent but kings and queens: If we but trust and surrender our lives to the one who is the King of kings. We know Prince Charming is real because he came down from heaven to save those in distress; and through His spirit we can emulate Him and also be Prince Charmings of a lesser sort. The one time you try to do what you think is right it turns out God was guiding you; preventing you from doing wrong in the process. Love at first sight is possible because love does really exist and it’s not governed by ‘blind biological urges,’ but is a decision of devotion to the one you love and this devotion governs and overrules ‘blind biological urges’ when they are contrary to love. We must give up the delusional fantasy of the realists and trade it for the good, true, and beautiful reality of the romanticist.