This summer, the fantastic and the usual intertwined while my family spent time at the ranch where I grew up. The constant companionship of memory and discovery guided my thoughts toward those unexpected moments when fantasy leaves the realm of intentional thought, and bursts through the surface of our daily lives. Not quite unexpected moments such as coming across a child’s toy sword or finding a copy of a favorite book sets us thinking about fantasy, or even dredging up some wonderfully apt association between the not-very-pleasant teller at the bank and the White Witch, but the moments where things seem to fall between, when the very thing we are doing or the very place we are, fits without our forcing it into the realm of fantasy.
Setting out to read a fantasy novel, or write one, or play an RPG, or craft an article on some element of fantasy is something we all do with intention, and do so happily, but the wellspring of the “unexpected moment” is the unintentional way that fantasy roots in our minds…not quite the idea of a cultural imaginary, but certainly an individualized imaginary where the commonplaces of fantasy and our lives converge. Winter often lends itself to these moments, when the broad fields of glistening white transform what is with what could be, and bastions of snowbanks make everything a fortification; yet even those moments are imposed to some extent and I am certain I cannot look at the snow and see simply snow anymore, but snow-as-fantastic author. But the unexpected moments I am wondering about are rare and delightful moments of blurring and recognition.
The sort of moment I wonder at is one such as this: working in a large wheatfield, with the rise and fall of hills obscuring any roads or distant houses, anyone who pauses and looks up would be possibly unsurprised to see a horse and rider arriving…but there are times when that horse and rider are distant or obscured enough to give a momentary thought that they could be a knight and charger, or brigand and mount, and in that moment we are not undisturbed by that possibility. The image isn’t forced, it simply is one of the possible combinations that horse and rider could be. Of course the reality of who the rider is dispels the charmed moment, but the intersection between fantasy and ordinary commonplaces is a brief and wonderful thing.
The same sort of moment holds true in smaller ways, perhaps working in a garden and the small movement under the shrubs is probably the usual rabbit come to see exactly where the lettuce will soon come up, but for a moment it seems reasonable that something else is there, sinister or hobbit like.
These unexpected moments are, I very much hope, shades and whispers of how we first felt on reading that favorite book, or when we were children thinking that perhaps the toy sword was more than a toy. I hope they are reminders of the way fantasy keeps fresh within our minds, and even those of us who ride often, or fence, or are masters of RPG realms and SCA kingdoms, or write and study fantasy and are well versed in so many other worlds, can still be taken by surprise by fantasy.