Is Escapism Healthy?

In the first part of this series, I talked about my history with escapism and the positive effects of one series in particular that I’m certain you’ve heard of.

Escapism can be defined as the act of seeking relief and distraction from unpleasant realities, often by way of entertainment and fantasy. Escapism has been critiqued by many. They deem it irresponsible and describe it as a way to avoid real life responsibility. Googling the term shows up countless results with similar implications – that escapism is avoidance; that one should snap back to reality; that one should leave their fantasy world; that there are nasty consequences. But I believe escapism can be a healthy coping mechanism for children and adults alike, to a reasonable degree.

In the face of personal hardship and adversity, a method of distancing oneself emotionally can be beneficial. I don’t support escapism as an avoidance strategy, but I think taking a break when you need to should be encouraged – especially if your downtime is something as mind expanding as reading. Not only does reading improve your vocabulary and general knowledge, it nourishes your imagination, and while society encourages imagination in children, after a certain age young people are often discouraged from flights of fancy in favour of hard work and acceptance of responsibility.

Despite this sad reality, escapist literature has a significant – if short – history. In his article on the subject, Heilman discusses this history, citing the different issues literature provided escape from over the past century (from fear in the 1940s, from authority in the 1960s), along with the evolution of the meaning of the word “escape”. He concludes that “we have a more embracing view of escape than did our ancestors; we readily think of escape as a mode of dealing with imperfect existence”. And let’s be honest – life is imperfect at the best of times.

It is important to address the moral stigma surrounding escapism and fiction, and to highlight the positive impacts, like fostering personal growth in readers and providing comfort in times of trouble. In his fantastic article Your Brain on Fiction, Smith talks about the notion of escaping, and sums up my thoughts on the topic perfectly: “We frequently hear fiction reading described by both readers and fiction’s detractors as escape… However, we need to be clear about what readers are escaping from. They are escaping from a narrow, limiting view of the world and journeying to a place where it is possible to experience a deeper connection to our real selves and to live fully in our world”. Hear, hear.

I wasn’t the first kid to be bullied at school, and I won’t be the last. I’m not the only twenty-something who finds the morass of responsibility and work of adulthood overwhelming at times. Reading – “escaping” – makes me a better person, and I believe that to be true for many people, and many books. Let novels open your heart to the endless joys of reading, and let them be somewhere to turn to for comfort. Let them sweep you away into a fantasy world when you want or need it, then let them gently help you back down into your own life, more open minded and knowledgeable than before. Foster reading in children and in yourself. Start with Harry Potter and watch the magic happen.

Curious about what I’m reading? Check the Goodreads list in the sidebar.


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As usual, please feel free to ask me any questions in the comments or email me at contact.isobellawolfe@gmail.com

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