If you are not careful, you can get the impression that writing books that are fun to read is a lesser goal, less challenging, or not artistic. That somehow escapism, enjoyment, and entertainment are not worthwhile pursuits for an artist. That really talented writers are not interested in fun (I acknowledge that the labels escapist and fun are not perfect analogs, but they are close enough that I am using them interchangeably).
The conversation surrounding this is so muddled that you may have heard a version of the sentiment that, “You can create escapism or make real art.”
What a load of nonsense.
I may be wrong, but people seem to have more anxiety and stress in their lives than they would like. Depression stats are concerning. There are many things happening out in the world to make a person sad, angry, and just worried about tomorrow. Providing art that is an answer to that seems pretty worthwhile to me.
A lot of the classic books and celebrated modern fiction are stories about characters having those same feelings. We enjoy prose that accurately captures how we feel, and the best work explores and describes those feelings in ways that give us new insights into ourselves and our experiences. This has the added benefit of building empathy and showing us that we are not alone. All of which is incredible. But…
Sometimes you just want to feel good, sometimes you want to get away, feel happy, and have fun.
I would argue that providing books that are fun to read and allow people to escape from the complicated layering of emotions that we all carry around is one of the most amazing things an author can do. A worthy goal for any writer to pursue.
It also isn’t easy.
When people are already feeling an emotion, like anxiety, it isn’t all that hard to turn it up or channel it. Sometimes, we even seek out things that do this, finding comfort in knowing we are not alone, like listening to sad songs when you are feeling blue.
What is harder is taking a sad person or a stressed person and writing something that negates that feeling and replaces it with something else even for a short time. As a writer with that goal in mind, you are endeavoring not only to reverse your reader’s negative emotional trajectory, but also, at least at the moment, to fight against the emotional tenor of more than 90% of the news.
I applaud and encourage you!
But is it lesser art? Nah. What it is is aspirational. Inherent in most fun and escapist art is the belief that things can get better. Within it is a prescription for a better future. Often things like love, honor, decency, courtesy, patience, and friendship are presented as ways to achieve that dream of the future.
I believe that is the crux of why critics and those who spend their lives telling us what kind of writing is valuable get shy about endorsing escapism. When you endorse something that has a prescription for a better life in it you may be endorsing a worldview, and a lot of people are chicken about that sort of thing. It is much easier to talk about something that captures how things are because you can easily compare reality to the art work. When it comes to saying, “Look how fun this is!” and “Look how the characters arrived there!”, people might think you are endorsing those characters’ path. Oooooo scary!
This leads me to think that escapist writing might actually be braver.
Writing so that the people who read your work have fun and can escape from their worries: not valueless; not easier; not work of a lesser artistic value. Different? Absolutley. Critically under-examined? Certainly. But honestly, escapism doesn’t really need critics.
My 700 words here are pretty well summed up by C.S.Lewis in his essay On Science-Fiction:
That perhaps is why people are so ready with the charge of 'escape'. I never fully understood it till my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple question, 'What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and most hostile to, the idea of escape?' and gave the obvious answer: jailers.
Go write what you want, have fun doing it and if you want people to have fun reading it I hope you succeed beyond your wildest expectations.