Oscar Wilde on FantasyPosted by 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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