Saturday, 10 December 2016

The Value Of Fantasy

Works of fantasy like Poul Anderson's Old Phoenix stories and Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: Worlds' End invite us to imagine that mythological creatures are as real as we are and that, in some unusual circumstances, we might be able to meet them. A conversation between a twentieth or twenty first century man and a centaur from Greek mythology would involve two points of view, that of the man and that of the centaur, and both would be equally real - so how would it seem to the centaur? When Brant Tucker requests the use of a phone because his friend is badly hurt, a long-haired bearded man, naked at least to the waist, replies:

"A telephone? I have heard of such things. I do not believe such an object is to be found in this inn, nor that it could summon any assistance for your friend if it was.
"I am, however, a chirurgeon of no mean skill."
-Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Worlds' End (New York, 1994), p. 24.

Only then do we see his quadrupedal lower body. This is the centaur, Chiron. Similar scenes occur in Poul Anderson's works. Why is it valuable to read this? Because we do in fact coexist with beings who have very different worldviews - each other. Some of my friends and acquaintances accept as literally true narratives that I regard as mythological - just as Chiron is mythological. We inhabit very different conceptual universes.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    Wouldn't it had been better to say centaurs have quadrupedal EQUINE lower bodies? And if centaurs existed in OUR world I can imagine wearing suitably tailored shirts, coats, and even ties! After all, won't centaurs also feel cold in winters? (Smiles)

    Merry Christmas! Sean

    1. Sean,
      According to Wiki, Chiron was sometimes shown clothed.

    2. Kaor, Paul!

      As I've said, I'm sure centaurs would get cold in winters!


    3. Sean,
      Also the idea is that he is a more civilized centaur.

    4. Kaor, Paul!

      And benign and benevolent as well, if Chiron was a physician and surgeon.

      Merry Christmas! Sean