The Importance of the Impossible
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Oscar Wilde on Fantasy

Posted by A.E. Marling in Charitable Lying

I have a feeling that if I reanimated Oscar Wilde amidst the crackle of lightning in my laboratory and asked him what he thought about the fantasy genre, he would say,

“I can’t stand it. It’s entirely too believable.”

But that was his way. In fact, the one novel he wrote, the Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), sported a significant fantasy element. In the story, an Adonis named Dorian stays forever young and beautiful, while the depiction of him in his portrait ages. By concocting this “what if” scenario, Oscar Wilde flipped reality on its head to better understand and appreciate it, a keystone of the fantasy genre. The frilled man himself said,

“Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art.”

Oscar Wilde wanted writing to be larger and more beautiful than life and more imaginative. He expressed this sentiment most playfully in his essay “The Decay of Lying,” where he bemoans, “It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information.” He appreciated the importance of reading for its own sake, rather than for the exclusive goal of improving oneself. Learning is fine, even essential, but without play, we become apathetic toward life, a topic I discuss in a prior blog post. In that post I site research done by Dr. Brown for added validity, a tactic of which Oscar Wilde would have disapproved.

“How different from the temper of the true liar, with his frank, fearless statements, his superb irresponsibility, his healthy, natural disdain of proof of any kind!”

Clearly, Professor Wilde, I have much to learn. In the same essay, he grieves,

“The ancient historians gave us delightful fiction in the form of fact; the modern novelist presents us with dull facts under the guise of fiction.”

I would like to think that the undead Oscar Wilde would nowadays either write fantasy novels, or at least enjoy reading them. (He loved studying the ancients and their mythos.) He would be an advocate of titillating one’s sense of whimsy through tales of magic and foreign worlds.

As you must by now have gathered, Oscar Wilde is my literary hero. I had no choice but to cast a character in my novel who wields paradoxical wit, in his honor. If the undead Oscar Wilde asked why said character also commands a forbidden, devilish magic, I would reply,

But, Oscar, the only way to be well thought of these days is to be infamous.

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3 Responses

  • rese says:

    hey! great site! and how i do luv mr. wilde. =)

  • I really enjoyed this post. Oscar Wilde is one of my favorite writers as well. I’ve always found his ability to craft personalities (such as Lord Henry in Dorian Grey) who can espouse such outrageously antipathetic views of their own caste to be nothing short of brilliant. Paradoxical wit, as you name it above. Exactly.

    I must agree that Mr. Wilde would certainly have enjoyed the Fantasy genre, and I agree on its importance overall. We’re inundated with reality, which cannot but darken our dreams. A bit of whimsy, a sparkle of possibility, these things are so vital to evolution toward higher levels of existence for our culture. Our lives are only as magical as we make them.

  • If I ever had the ability to go back in time, I would use it to meet Oscar Wilde.
    The idea of undead Oscar Wilde is hilarious enough (that’s something I would love to hear him comment) but yes, I would also want to know what he would have to say about fantasy. Your imaginary quote looks too believable 😀
    This very post is a reason I started to follow you :] I like your way of thinking.



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