When my daughter was little she used to wonder about the imaginary creatures and monsters she’s heard about or read about in storybooks. Were they real? She already had a pretty good idea they weren’t, but she still needed to ask, just in case.
I had two answers for her, depending on whether the creature was one she liked, or one she was afraid of.
Answer # 1:
“Dad, are unicorns real?”
“Yes, they’re very real … in your imagination. And imagination is one of the most powerful forces there is. Without imagination we would never have been able to invent new things, fly to the moon, or discover cures for disease. Sometimes we need imaginary things that we don’t find in the real world. We need to believe in them because they mean something important to us…”
Usually by the time I got this far she’d already walked away.
Answer # 2:
“Dad, are vampires real?”
Apparently the question “are vampires real?” is a very common internet search query. Vampires have so permeated pop culture that it’s not surprising people have begun to wonder whether they’re really just fiction or not. Further confusing the issue are the people out there who believe they themselves are vampires. They live a vampire lifestyle (or undeadstyle), in some cases to the point of convincing people to donate blood to them so they can drink it.
As far as I know there isn’t a subculture of people who think they’re unicorns. I wonder why not. Harder to fake a great big ivory horn, I suppose.
But then again, in my opinion vampires and unicorns and iron golems and talking trees do exist. They exist in a dimension we call Story. In my fantasy novels I call this dimension the Perilous Realm (a phrase coined by J R R Tolkien, I believe). Some people also call it the Storyverse. This story dimension permeates our own. We move in and out of it on a daily basis. We’re always telling ourselves stories … about who we are, about things that happened in the past (we call these stories memories), about what we hope will happen in the future. We spend much of our time living inside these imagined story-worlds of hopes, memories, dreams, fears. Are these stories “real”? They have a powerful impact on how we live our lives, that’s for sure.
More on the “story dimension” coming in another post.
Illustration: T Wharton