I write about imaginary characters who save imaginary worlds.
But that seems so frivolous when the real world keeps hurtling toward new perils.
That is why I often find myself trying to remedy real world threats in my head as if they were just plot holes in need of plugging.
Or I get mixed up. I wonder: How should my protagonist rescue democracy, defeat dragons, prevent climate apocalypse, procure the sacred elden wand, and stem the tide of irrationality that has seized public discourse?
But trying to solve global problems in my head is exhausting. And it is always with the knowledge that any solution I come up with is bound to be embarrassingly absurd.
Perhaps, my brain helpfully suggests, the world only needs more fantasy authors, perhaps entire brigades of us, magic-obsessed wordsmiths brandishing pens and highborn notions. “Have no fear, just step aside, fantasy novelists coming through, saving worlds is our specialty, no need to thank us, no worries, we got this!”
But saving pretend worlds is so much easier than saving real ones. Authors get to rig the game. J.R.R. Tolkien imagined a ring that emanated darkness but he also threw in a convenient disposal mechanism: a fiery ring-eating mountain.
The equally underhanded writers of Star Wars got to toss a convenient “flaw” into the Death Star, a vulnerability due to an apparent lapse in the dark lord engineering handbook.
When “saving” a fictional world, authors don’t even have to find solutions: we get to make them up. And if no good solutions are handy we can just tweak the problem until it has one.
Addressing actual threats means paying close attention to the real world, the one outside of books and dreams, a place of laundry and taxes and expensive cereal, a place where heroes are scarce and dragons are found not in castle keeps but on toy shelves.
But confronting realities like expensive cereal is anathema to us. There is nothing drearier to a fantasy author than facing real life, but maybe, at some point, some of us ought to try it.
Besides, who has more of a stake in saving the actual world than a fantasy author? If the world goes away, no one will be around to read our books! What better reason to seek world peace and preserve a habitable planet for future generations?
But I do realize that the planet is not just some rough draft in need of a snappy plot twist.
That may be why every time I try to find solutions to real world problems, my imagination lets me down. My answers are the sort that most editors would consider too hackneyed to print.
Maybe everyone just needs to love each other more. Then every problem will be solved! World peace will ensue!
Except, I know better. If love were going to bring about world peace, justice, and responsible technology, it should have done so by now. Everyone has been pushing love as a social panacea for eons. But Utopia seems more remote than ever. Besides, some people are incapable of loving. We need a “Plan B.”
Which leads me to hackneyed solution number 2: Maybe humans just need better self-esteems. Maybe we keep rushing toward existential precipices because we secretly have a low opinion of ourselves. Maybe out of sheer self-dislike we unconsciously want to end the human experiment once and for all.
I wonder: With all of our hand-wringing over human hubris, have we finally become victims of our own cynicism? The pageantry of horrors marching through the pages of history books seem to confirm that humans are nefarious creatures. But maybe we need reminding that history is mainly the story of power addicts who think they need more power.
Crazed power addicts do not represent the human population as a whole, if only because most people lack access to armies or word-ending bombs, the obscene levers of power wielded by those who prowl the world stage.
The best people—the people we meet every day—rarely make the history books, yet they are just as much a part of the past as Alexander the Great or Hammurabi.
History books never mention your grandmother who baked your favorite oatmeal cookies when you were five even though her back was achy. Orthe taxi driver who waived your 80 dollar fare just because he learned it was your birthday.
But such characters do appear in fiction, a venue where they are duly honored.
So, maybe if enough fiction writers, who understand that kindness matters, put their heads together they could find a non-hackneyed way to preserve humanity for a few more millennia.
It is strange, though, how, in all of my fervor to “save the world in my head,” I keep forgetting a important fact: the world is still here.
When I look at the news I can hardly see what is in front of me for the fogs of portent in my head.
I forget that the world has been teetering on the brink of annihilation for some time now, and humans have lasted much longer than many people expected.
Maybe the world has already been saved many times but somehow it just never made the news. Or maybe there was a clandestine peace-making special ops unit involving cookie-bearing grandmas and generous taxi drivers—people who preferred birthdays and brownies to breaking things.
That being said, no one can save the world for all eternity. And there are no guarantees that if we save the world once, nothing will ever menace it again.
But for whatever reason, here we are, still going about our lives, dreaming, doing laundry, chewing gum, and feeding our cats overpriced tuna treats.
The world, despite everything that threatens it, is still here.
But just in case the grandmas and taxi drivers need help, we as fantasy writers are honor-bound to do our part.
So, Other Fantasy Authors, do what you do best—imagine.
Imagine world peace and Utopia. Imagine a future safe for people, frogs, cats, kids, and new video gaming systems.
And if all else fails attempt the impossible. Unleash magic. Call down the dragons. Prepare the elixirs. Send forth the elven armies. Summon the sorcerers gone berserk with pious rage.
A storm is coming, and the time has come to vanquish the forces of darkness before it is too late.
Just think. By saving the real world from climate disaster, pandemics, and autocracy, we will be saving our imaginary worlds as well.
And we have to do that because that is our job.