Fantasy has it rough. It bears a reputation of being trivial, flashy, adolescent, and entertainment-driven. Indeed, some fantasy is. But, such a judgment is unfair to good fantasy, which is none of the above. Because fantasy is so blatantly allegorical, when it is good, it reveals a forthright understanding of how reality functions. And, when it is great, it resembles myth, with its godlike way of adding meaning to life.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant (2015) raised many literary eyebrows when it came out because it dared to include a dragon as a character. But its fantastical view of reality reveals more about how humans function than do many works belonging to “respectable” genres, such as noir, historical or literary fiction.
In this, his latest novel, Isgihuro recreates the long-lost world of post-Arthurian England, which is enveloped by a mist that clouds its collective memory. Eventually we learn that the mist exists to obviate the recollection of a ghastly violent past. Sure, peace is maintained as a result, but the country makes its day in a stupor tinged by an uncanny unease.
Precisely because this metaphor is so obvious, it is easy to take from it. A widespread failure of memory caused by the spellbound breath of a dragon can translate into a failure of memory caused by politics and its propaganda. That no one questions the mist becomes the sad power of communal denial. That one aging couple wonders if the mist made their love last is the story of every marriage, where to forget is often more accessible than to forgive.
Brava! Can we access our own possible futures without fantasy? It’s pervasive, thank God! And could we even start a poem or painting or tune or conversation without it? Half of Thoreau is not fact but fantasy, or reverie, and we like him, and children’s books, because of it.