Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1143, 11 - 17 April 2013
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1143, 11 - 17 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Irresistible fantasy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Man has always sought ways and means of escaping reality!  He looked to the heavens and dreamed of gods and goddesses in the stars and planets.  He invented stories of romance and revenge, of Valhalla and Vedas, of Oracles and Muses.  He invented folktales and legends for amusement, but his mythologies and divinities were sacrosanct.

Religion became his next refuge. He sought to please God in order to achieve the promised joys of Paradise.  By the 1600s Science Fiction provided him with imaginative themes of space travel and time travel, of marvelous adventures and discoveries, mostly set in the future in an alternative universe.

Francis Bacon wrote The New Atlantis in 1627, and German astronomer Johannes Kepler described a trip to the moon in “Somnium” in 1634.  A century later, Jonathan Swift enthralled readers with his masterpiece, “Gulliver’s Travels”, in 1700.

With the Industrial revolution of the 18th century, hardship among many gave birth to the ‘Horror’ phenomenon in the Gothic novel.  Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, (1818), reverberates to this day.

It is said that ‘Literature is a luxury, Fiction a necessity’, and what is Fantasy but an extension of Fiction, acknowledged by psychologists as a needed fix for humanity in this era of gore and bloodshed.  Sci-fi authors Jules Verne and   H.G. Wells, captivated 19th century readers and at the dawn of the 20th century, their scientific fiction turned into predictions of technological marvels still unfolding.  Who could have thought then that men could fly into space or survive in submarines under the sea?

The US contribution to the world of fantasy occurred in the 20th century in what was commonly known as the ‘pulps’.   These were popular magazines overflowing with amazing stories of scientific marvels. Such writers included prestigious names as Isaac Asimov and Theodore Sturgeon.  The Cinema was another creation of the 20th century.   They were immediately drawn to each other. Their love affair has endured in harmony and profitability.

More than any other medium, film has the capacity of conjuring alternate worlds and fantastic visions of imaginary realms... of distant planets, of underworlds and overrworlds, of vampires and hobbits, of “ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties, /  And things that go bump in the night”.  Instead of running away from them, we find ourselves eagerly running towards them, for relief from what is worse--- the turmoil and torment of our reality.

The first filmmaker France’s Georges Melies started making movies in 1899.  By 1913 he had made 1000 movies most of them shorts of extraordinary visions of illusory fantasies. Budding movie-goers were mesmerized.

Like an intoxicating elixir we embrace fantasy tales of the unnatural and supernatural, and the visual technique of film is particularly suited to quench this thirst.  Several forms of fantasy films have been spawned, from horrors of the grave to futuristic stunners, not the least of which is the animated film or ‘cartoon’.

With few super-heroes in the world of reality, we idolize our super-heroes of our fancy who embody the sacred and sublime elements of nobility and supremacy.   We are addicted to our Supermen, Batmen, Spider-men and a Wonder-woman to boot.  Not only are they larger than life, they are more powerful that Hercules, more beautiful than Adonis, more amorous than Paris, more courageous than Achilles and more seductive than Helen herself.

Children of all ages have been fascinated by the Wonderland of Alice, the Middle-Earth of the Hobbits, the Wizardry of Harry Potter and the Emerald City of OZ.

American author Frank L. Baum, (1856-1919) wrote several children’s stories about a mythical country named OZ.  The most popular book:”The Wonderful World of OZ”, became a musical comedy in 1905 and a motion picture in 1939.  His OZ series of 14 stories constructed a fairyland of modern proportions. Victor Fleming directed the famous film which launched the legendary career of Judy Garland. The film was nominated for an Oscar and would have won had not “Gone with the Wind” been in contention. Still the magic of OZ has stood the test of time popping up every Easter to dazzle and delight generation after generation for near a century.  Who amongst us has not yearned to join Dorothy and the Munchkins on the yellow brick road and their pilgrimage to Emerald City?

So great is our need for escape from the moans and groans of our daily grind, filmmakers are forever in search of means for our escape into the realm of the fantastic.  Director Sam Raimi has chosen to return to Emerald City to find more treasures in the Merry Old Land of OZ.   His new version has just been released boasting an impressive cast with James Franco, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis “oz the great and powerful” is considered a prequel to Dorothy’s famous adventure. With Raimi at the helm, the usual conflict between the forces of good and evil are given a new twist.

For more fantasy fixes there is a mature version of the English fairytale “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Snow White and the Huntsman”, a modern version of the classic tale of the Brothers Grimm. There are even more ‘Star Treks’ and ‘Star Wars’, more ‘ghoulies and ghosties’ and more super-heroes  for your adoration.

How are we to deal with such dark and calamitous events that engulf us? Our big and small screens may have the answer, until we reach our Emerald City!


“Imagination disposes of everything... it creates beauty, justice and happiness, which is everything in the world.”

                                                           Blaise Pascal, (1623- 1662)

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