Sunday, November 4

Out of This World

"Literature masters the fourth dimension, where physics fears to tread."
~ Editor-in-chief of the science magazine, Scientific American
We’ve all craved to give up the world that we currently occupy in favor of the mesmerizing lives of new worlds. Which bookworm can deny that pull that emanates from a good piece of fiction; that tug from the depths of a captivating story, promising more than just a momentary escape from reality?
This reality, that is; because there might just be more.

People all over the world believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Us bibliophiles believe in something more. We believe in alternate realities. We get caught up in the adventures and distresses of fictional characters, we laugh and cry with our protagonists, and sometimes, we fall hopelessly in love with them. We believe that there are worlds housed inside books. When we see a bookstore or a library, we see possibilities. Like Alice in Wonderland, it’s like falling down a rabbit-hole and finding oneself standing in a chamber with multiple doors, each leading to a parallel dimension where everything is different, one of which might just be the perfect fit.
The worlds offered to us by books might be as flawed, and as tragic as our own, but they still call out to us.

While scientists might debate for years to come about the existence of parallel universes and realities, literature has made that leap of faith long ago and provided us plenty of opportunities to visualize the fourth dimension. Over the years, a number of authors have attempted the same, almost all of them proffering different but equally compelling theories.

What makes the unknown realm of a parallel universe enticing is the fact that it’s a blank void which a person can fill according to the extent of one’s imagination. The question of what to expect if someday, you’re pulled into a story is addressed by different authors in different ways.

Jasper Fforde, in his book The Eyre Affair, a part of a series entitled Thursday Next, has the protagonist as a Literary Detective. While she herself is part of a world where such a position exists, along with Dodos for pets, pagers, and werewolves and vampires as serial criminals; meta-theatricality is further employed as the plot deals with her entering the original text of Jane Eyre because Jane is kidnapped from the book. Fascination ensues when we get a much-coveted glimpse into the lives of the hero and heroine of the famous Charlotte Bronte novel. The concept here is on the lines of a play being enacted on stage. Jane and Rochester know what they’re supposed to do, and their actions are more or less dictated by the original script. It seems that, in this world, the process of acting out the entire story is repeated infinitely. The world, too, is defined only to the extent that the author described it and nothing exists beyond the sights that Jane has seen or heard of, seeing as she is the narrator of the novel. The twist, however, is that we’re shown that the Detective Thursday Next is the person responsible for the present plot of Jane Eyre. Before her interruption, the novel had an ending where Jane marries St. John Rivers. Thursday is the one who sets fire to the mansion, killing Bertha Mason in the process and bringing about the present conclusion to this Victorian Classic. All this happens because in this universe, meddling with the original manuscript of any text means changing the story, and along with it, the text of all the other copies that exist around the globe.

Cornelia Funke, with her Inkheart Trilogy, takes the concept to another level with a brilliant plot making every reader’s wishes come true. There are certain people with ‘silver tongues’, she says, who can make wonders happen when they read aloud from books. The preliminary concept remains the same: each book has a world of its own. But, she expands on it to an extent where these worlds are complete and sufficient in themselves, which increases the quotient of wonder exponentially. The worlds inside each book are complex, dark, and dangerous. In spite of all this, the power it has on the protagonist, an eleven year-old girl Meggie, and her father, Mo, is incredible. Booklovers of the first order themselves, tragedy strikes them when Mo reads aloud from Inkheart, and unconscious of his talent, causes an exchange to take place. The villain of the story escapes to our world, while Mo’s wife is sucked into the depths of the book in his place. After several attempts, Mo and Meggie, along with the author of Inkheart, succeed in following her to the Inkworld where everything is as enchanting as they had imagined. What follows is fantasy fiction with all sorts of princes, villains, people metamorphosing into animals, and magic. The point, however is that no one here knows of their fates according to the dictation of the book’s plot. They live oblivious to the existence of an outer world, and have lives as complicated as our own; more intricate than what is apparent. The book’s plot is a very small part of their stories. Any events that happen due to outside influence do not change the text of the book, and some characters even manage to escape their fated death due to the same. The conclusion of the series involves the protagonists staying back in the Inkworld, despite its imperfections, sorrows, and general dark nature. It makes one wonder if somewhere, in another world, there exist books depicting out own travails; thereby making our own lives scripted.

J.K. Rowling managed a coup with the Harry Potter series, where the magical world co-exists with the ‘Muggle’ world, silently and innocuously. Phillip Pullman, in His Dark Materials combines theology and philosophy when he uses this concept of a ‘multiverse’ and describes an elaborate process of splitting open the boundary between worlds using huge amounts of energy to create a bridge and subsequently travel between them. All worlds, he gives us, have a common underworld. C.S. Lewis, in Chronicles of Narnia, talks about all worlds having, in contrast, a common heaven. The children in the stories access the world of talking animals, Narnia, through a cupboard in the first book. Time machines, on the other hand, have been doing the necessary in H.G. Wells’ books, which were one of the first to employ this theory.

Our intervention might change plotlines and cause havoc in literature. It might be possible that an alternate world exists which suits us better than the present one. It might take a while for us to get hold of the right Portkey, cupboard, time machine, manuscript, or rupture in the sky; but till that moment arrives, books will continue to tantalize. Escapism, daydreaming, fantasy; psychiatrists might call them undesirable symptoms, but why confine yourself to only one world when there's a possibility that a million others might exist out there?

As J.R.R. Tolkein, in his essay “On Fairy-Stories” says, “Fairy-stories may invent monsters that fly the air or dwell in the deep, but at least they do not try to escape from heaven or the sea.”

No comments:

Post a Comment