On fiction and imagination

This post began when I after I read a post by girlonthecontrary which opens by asking what music unicorns listen to. Setting aside for a moment that I felt immediately I could be an authority on unicorn music, this got me thinking about the human capacity for fiction.  

I leave you free to believe what you will (your creed is not my business), but let us for argument’s sake assume that unicorns are not real. How is it then that I feel instinctively qualified to discuss their musical tastes? Perhaps because I have been conditioned by books and films as to the reported behaviour patterns of unicorns and I believe I can infer something based on that with the addition of some knowledge of music? That’s a reasonable explanation but it misses the point somewhat. What I’m questioning is the human imagination. Even if I do not believe in unicorns I can visualise one (or many) without difficulty and I find that remarkable.  

The concept of a unicorn is quite a simple example one but a novel is infinitely more complex. In many books, particularly in the science fiction and fantasy genres, the reader is lifted into another world which may not bear much resemblance to the one he or she usually inhabits. Often the reader learns enough about a fictional world to feel that they could become a part of it; just think of the popularity of quizzes to sort people into their house at Hogwarts and the extreme devotion of convention-going Star-Trek fans. Yet it is very rare for a person to lose track of the distinction between fiction and reality. How sophisticated our brains are to be able to distinguish between this detailed, well thought-out fiction and the real world. How is it that we can watch a film, follow it with the evening  news and keep perfectly clear which parts of our viewing were true occurrences and which were fiction?  

Perhaps we are able to differentiate because we are not totally immersed in the experiences on the screen or page – if all of our senses were engaged perhaps it would be more challenging. Certainly with a dream, where all the senses may seem to be involved but the experiences are (generally) not real ones, it can be difficult sometimes to separate the dream from reality. I know I am not the only one who has woken furious with my partner or a friend and found it difficult to forgive them for something they only did in my dream. Sometimes it isn’t until I question why I am cross that I realise the thing I thought they did doesn’t quite make sense, so it probably didn’t happen and I should give them a break!  

But I am not only amazed by our ability to interact with fiction; there is also the process of creation. How is it that humans can invent so many new stories, characters and worlds? We are not all capable of writing blockbusting novels but each of us can imagine something, even if it is only the tiniest part removed from reality. 



At the moment I am imagining a blue centaur called Wilberforce, who is fond of candyfloss but allergic to the colouring in it. As I imagine him now he is a little grumpy (because of the candyfloss issue) but I have the power to imagine exciting adventures for him or a quiet day in his stable and I can cheer him up in any number of ways.  

Maybe we should try to revel in the power of our brains and all have a go at imagining something. How long is it since you last took time out of reality to imagine something? You never know, your thoughts might end up as the next big Hollywood blockbuster!

One thought on “On fiction and imagination

  1. girlonthecontrary says:

    I loved this post! And not just because you mentioned my blog in it- I loved it because it is well written and exceedingly interesting. Imaginations are small miracles. Thanks!

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