I don’t know about you, but I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. There is something fascinating about this magical world of endless possibilities that attracts humans of all ages and captivates both the mind and the spirit. Not to mention the added advantage that comes with spending “too much” time reading—you don’t have time to be bothered by the world or worry about those plans you’re not exactly looking forward to.
My personal preferences include pretty much anything that involves vampires, funny dwarfs, handsome elves, warlocks, witches, werewolves, and any other supernatural being. Although the main focus here is on the written type of fantasy literature, I would like to mention and praise the live-action fantasy films that are based on screenplays or represent adaptations of novels, comic books, manga and anime series, as well as animation movies.
A healthy distraction
I believe the main reason we are fascinated by imaginary worlds where everything is possible is…exactly that—limitless potential. Escaping reality through reading may sound like a drug, but other than disappearing from social media or burning down your kitchen, I don’t see any negative side effects to be honest. Let’s face it—the world can be difficult to live in. That’s why many of us turn to what we perceive to be, in certain ways, better than the truth. Not to mention that in most stories the protagonists are still alive despite the crazy and exciting adventures they have been through, the good side defeats the evil one…who wouldn’t want that “reality”?
However, we need to be careful with postponing or ignoring things that are important. No form of avoidance, regardless of how harmless it may seem, should replace facing and working on our problems, getting professional help or healing what led us to seek freedom in the first place, which is what we fundamentally search for, when we either distract or numb ourselves. We want to become free of sadness, grief, pain, anger, and all other emotions and thoughts that occupy and overwhelm our minds and hearts.
Improved brain function
A study published in the “Brain Connectivity” journal and mentioned in Psychology Today, found that reading a novel can enhance brain function on different levels. The transformations that happen when we read a novel are registered in the same part of the brain where neurons have been correlated with making the mind think it’s doing something it’s not. One of the researchers concluded that the act of reading a novel has the power to place the reader in the body of the main character.
This ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” has been shown to develop our compassion and to improve theory of mind, which is the capacity to ascribe mental states like desires or beliefs to ourselves and to also consider that other people have objectives or views that are different from our own. He also mentioned that reading stories can produce changes in the brain that can last for a minimum of a few days, and how this could be very important for children and the role reading has in their development.
Whether you are a writer needing some inspiration or some other flavor of artist using your limitless imagination, fantasy literature is a great source of creativity for everyone. Many art pieces and inventions were influenced by fantasy literature, like Salvador Dali’s “Mad Tea Party” painting based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland or self-driving cars and mobile phones as imagined by Isaac Asimov in his essay “Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014.”
The creativity-related benefit of reading doesn’t apply exclusively to adults. On the contrary, it is essential for children to explore, develop and express their imagination. In addition to the “playful” part of reading fantasy literature during childhood, there are other practical and useful skills and perspectives that can be cultivated, such as empathy, open-mindedness, curiosity, problem-solving, basic reading comprehension, character analysis and psychology (in later years).
“Parts work” or “voice dialogue” is a method that helps a person discover, explore, understand, communicate and work with the different selves that coexist inside every human being. For example, someone may work for 10 years in a secure job, having a stable life because the part inside them called “Protector” is making sure they are as safe as possible. At some point however, they quit their job and move to Thailand to open a yoga studio. They had an “Adventurer” part inside that had been growing sad, frustrated and feeling like it’s wasting its life.
One way to incorporate fictional characters into the parts work process is to attribute a character you’re familiar with or like, to one of your parts, depending on the degree of similarity between their characteristics. For example, you could associate the “Protector” with Wonder Woman, as she defends innocent people and has a strong sense of justice. The whole point is to make it easier to communicate with those parts, to shift the dynamic into something lighter, more manageable, relatable and why not, maybe even a little fun. As with almost everything, it’s all about perspective.
As you may have noticed, in most novels, movies, even animations that are supposedly focused on children as the main audience, there is a variety of life lessons, sometimes so deep they can change our perception entirely. Some of those life lessons are as simple as “There is strength in numbers,” found in many fantasy novels and movies, “Just keep swimming” (if you don’t know this one, go find your inner child), or the pearls of wisdom in Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince fable.
No matter which of these apply to you, or maybe others entirely different, there are some good reasons to incorporate a bit of magic and adventure into your wellness habits. After all, “reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”
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