When was the last time you looked up at the stars? Not just glanced up, or noticed their faint appearance in passing, but actually stood outside on a dark night and turned your face to the heavens?
I’m fortunate to live outside the city. On a dark, cloudless night, the sky becomes a black sheet strewn with glittering pinpricks of light. Hundreds of them, all at unimaginable distances. Take a second to stop and picture the grand scale of the universe.
If you’ve ever been on a road trip, the drive feels like it goes on forever. Mile after mile of tedious highway. Compared to the small bubble in which we live most of our lives, the world is huge.
And yet, it’s only a single drop of water in a vast ocean. Wrapping your mind around the size of the universe, and our comparatively tiny place in it, gives you a new perspective and appreciation.
Sci-fi and fantasy do the same thing, on a different scale, and with other benefits…like exploring.
New Worlds Await
I don’t know about you, but I love the thought of exploring distant places, of seeing new things. Sci-fi and fantasy stimulate and appease that desire.
It’s unlikely I’ll ever leave earth, let alone travel to another planet or beyond the confines of our solar system. Chances are, neither will you…but if the TARDIS comes calling, you MUST let me know. Deal?
Yet through stories like Star Trek, Star Wars, and Doctor Who, we can travel to the furthest reaches of the universe, going where no man has gone before, to galaxies far, far away. The ability to travel light-years away while remaining home is one of the many appeals of science fiction.
When it comes to fantasy, it’s about the setting, the environment. Have you ever watched travel shows, or shows that let you glimpse a corner of the world so breathtakingly beautiful yet foreign that your eyes pop and your jaw drops, and you think, “That’s actually a real place?” (Which is one reason why the Lord of the Rings movies are incredible.)
Going to exotic locations on earth would be amazing. Even if visiting most of those places is unrealistic, fantasy provides an outlet for adventurous inclinations and the desire to travel and see new sights.
- A quest to Mount Doom
- A year at Hogwarts
- A seafaring voyage to the “utter East”
Small People, Big World
Besides providing a way to let our imaginations soar beyond the boundaries of science and reality, of the here and now, sci-fi and fantasy present a bigger truth. The same truth we come face-to-face with when we gaze at the stars.
Our world, and our place in the world, is but a pebble on a mountainside. Not insignificant, but small nonetheless. It’s easy to become so caught up in our lives that we fail to see and appreciate everything happening around us. We stare down (likely at our phones) instead of lifting our gazes to scan the skies.
Which is one of the reasons I enjoy fantasy so much. Often, the characters are pushed, or dragged, outside the scope of their inwardly focused existence.
“Hello, Frodo. You’re a fine hobbit leading a simple life in your tiny corner of the tiny Shire. Here’s a ring, and a journey.”
Faster than you can say “Tom Bombadil,” Frodo’s perspective changes. He begins to look past the end of his nose, so to speak, and realizes how big the outside world is. The farther afield he travels, the more apparent this becomes.
On a massive scale, sci-fi accomplishes this even more pointedly. Spaceships, space stations, lunar outposts, travels to the far reaches of the galaxy, entire planets with civilizations and histories.
Along with the sense of exploration, sci-fi incorporates the mind-bending distances. The truly remarkable magnitude of, well, everything. Warp-speed. Flying across expanses so huge we can barely wrap our minds around them.
Perhaps, in our self-centered lifestyles, it’s good to remember we’re part of something infinitely bigger than our puny lives. A world as colorful, dangerous, diverse, and fascinating as Middle-earth lurks outside our hobbit hole.
Sci-fi and fantasy take us on journeys to exotic, impossible places, but they also remind us we’re like Doctor Who: a lone traveler in the immeasurable reaches of space and time.
As Gandalf tells Bilbo at the end of The Hobbit:
“You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”
What are some of your favorite places you’ve explored through sci-fi and fantasy? I’d love to hear your thoughts.