This weekend I'm reading Lev Grossman's The Magicians. It's a novel about a young man who finds comfort and escape in a series of novels called Fillory and Further (don't look those up; they're entirely fictional) by an author named "Christopher Plover," loosely based on C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia.
Quentin, the protagonist of The Magicians, knows that his fascination with these books is a bit untoward, but he also knows that he can't do without them. The books offer him a measure of safety he doesn't find anywhere else -- even though his parents are mild-mannered "middle-middle class" bureaucrats. (I won't tell you anything more about the book yet, as I haven't finished reading it. But I'm enjoying it!)
Reading about Quentin reminded me of my long-ago and mercifully short-lived addiction to (sigh) Middle Earth. You can laugh, but who among us bookish types has not succumbed to the lure of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" series? I didn't fall by myself; my sixth-grade teacher had my reading group (remember when "reading group" meant the kids who read at the same level, instead of women who drank wine and whined?) plod through The Hobbit.
We certainly didn't understand even a quarter of what Tolkien was up to, but all of us were hooked on the combination of a mythical place filled with archetypal characters. If you haven't read Joseph Campbell yet, you should; if you have, you'll know that I'm about to expound on the importance of pan-human stories. We all love different types. Some people eschew Star Trek, but are captivated by Beverly Hills 90210. Others adore "Ben-Hur," but can't get into Vanity Fair. Maybe you can't get enough of Mad Men even though The Iliad left you cold in college. The point is, we all want stories that help us make sense of the dark.
Don't we? What are yours?