Musing on the stuff of fantasy

02 November 2006


YOU WILL have read the story in the papers. The 19-year-old boy killed his father with a hammer and then a knife, after which he beat his mother to death. He then left the bodies, and went on a six-week holiday to the United States, using his parents' money, with a girl who believed he was a famous tennis player. They stayed at the very best hotels.

At his trial, he said: "I eternally long to be a little boy again. To be with my mum and dad again at a time when we really loved each other. When we could be family again. I miss them. I love them." He was a fantasist whose fantasy had finally run out, replaced by a desperate longing for something better, for authentic experience beyond his psyche's phoney creation.

By the time he spoke these words, he had no power to manipulate the situation. I therefore suspect that they were truthful words. They move me as truthful words always do.

We need discernment in the world of fantasy; for it can lead us down different paths. While some fantasy goes to the heart of the matter, other fantasy goes everywhere but there. There is fantasy that invites us into a more profound engagement with reality. Some might put C. S. Lewis's Narnia chronicles or George Orwell's Animal Farm in this category.

Other fantasy, however, is a deliberate escape from reality, such as J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, which featured the Neverland that so inspired Michael Jackson. This should not surprise us; for it was nothing more than a code word for sleep of consciousness and denial.

Barrie said: "Nothing that happens after 12 matters very much," which is both profoundly true and utterly false. Childhood creates, but it needn't define. His life was frozen in childhood, a place he had to visit again and again, like a sad figure endlessly retracing his steps to the bus stop where he lost that jewel, all those years ago.

He was the little boy unable to grow up, who became a writer, created a character in his own image, and a heaven out of his own dysfunction.

We must revisit our childhood, obviously, but for one reason alone - to discover the place and time where we lost our trust in the universe, after which we embarked on our various fatal fantasies to compensate for this loss.

Perhaps on one level our fantasies have not been as fatal as those of the young murderer. But if he
has begun to see through his fantasy, he will know more than I knew at his age. I actually imagined I had a pretty clear grasp on reality when I was 20. Pure fantasy, of course.

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