Welcome to Day 23 of my Mary Stewart Advent Calendar. Today I am sharing a quote from ‘Why shouldn’t one write “escapist” fiction?’, a write-up of the talk Mary Stewart gave in 1976/77 at the Sydney Opera House as part of a promotional tour of Australia.

Sydney Opera House. Photo from Wikimedia Commons. Photographer Bjarte Sorensen in 2004.

Sydney Opera House – a fine venue for an author talk and literary lunch!

The article was published in the quarterly publication ‘The Australian Author’ in January 1977. As I explained in my post about Wikipedia and Mary Stewart, you can get a copy of this article via the helpful people at the Australian Author website.

Escapist Fiction

The other day an interviewer, quoting some long-gone review of one of my early books, asked if I minded their being called “enjoyable, escapist reading”.

I said, “Why on earth should I? That is exactly what I should like them to be; work to give joy, work to provide escape from oneself.”

Then I realised that he, like all too many people, saw joy and escape as – not wrong exactly, but, shall we say, not quite worthy? Better to face “life as it is”, which phrase now never seems to mean being in the garden among the roses, or listening to music or making love, but doing the washing up or cleaning the drains or watching scarifying TV documentaries about the vilest aspects of human nature… We are brainwashed into believing that no one should waste time on making things of beauty, or on providing people with a key which will let them out of the scullery and away from the drains, to wander at will through a garden of bright images.

But those images, that joy and escape, are as much a necessity for all of us as food. Though the word “escapist” has indeed come to have a largely depreciatory meaning, in fact the kind of escape offered by a work of fiction is a very valuable one. Every piece of creative work must be to some extent escapist, and I’d almost be bold enough to say that its virtues are in proportion to how escapist it is; how far it carries us, not out of our world, which is not the main point, but out of ourselves – beyond ourselves.

Such escape is necessary, urgent and valuable. To deny this value is to make a facile and shallow judgement of fiction. I think it was C. S. Lewis [see Comments section] who remarked that the people with the most interest in denying escape to others are gaolers. As the novel provides it, it brings us closer to the realities of every day by illuminating them; the novel is a way we can travel into other minds and see with other eyes, can transcend at will the physical boundaries of our lives. We enlarge our experience through the experiences of the writer of the novel.

I’d be interested to know what others think about this defence of escapist fiction – do get in touch with your views.