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Truth and the Imagination: From Romance to Children’s Fantasy

Truth and the Imagination: From Romance to Children’s Fantasy

(p.242) Six Truth and the Imagination: From Romance to Children’s Fantasy
The Danger of Romance
Karen Sullivan
University of Chicago Press

Since Late Antiquity, thinkers have argued over whether imagination—and, by extension, romance, which relies so heavily upon imagination—can give one access to truth. For scholastic theologians, empirical philosophers, and realist novelists, imagination enables us to apprehend things that do not and cannot exist, such as a golden mountain, and, in doing so, misleads us. For monastic theologians, neo-Platonist philosophers, and Romantic poets, however, imagination enables us to envision things that do exist, such as God, Beauty, or Infinity, but cannot be perceived by the senses. In recent years, literary critics have continued this debate in their discussion of the value of fantasy literature. For critics of this genre, fantasy errs epistemologically, insofar as it treats unreal creatures as if they were real, but also ethically and politically, insofar as it neglects actual people and their actual needs. For defenders of fantasy, like J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and J. K. Rowling, fantasy does depict reality, but a reality that is metaphysical rather than physical, desired rather than possessed, and remembered or hoped for rather than experienced. As Rowling puts it, imagination is that which enables us “to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”

Keywords:   imagination, fantasy, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, history of imagination

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