One of my favorite authors once wrote, “Run mad as often as you choose, but do not faint.”
I know, I know, there are two criticisms that could potentially be applied to taking a serious look at this quote. One of them is that it was written by Jane Austen, who is not a science fiction or fantasy writer (unless you count her as the inspiration for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). The other is that it was written as a joke.
Regarding the first criticism, I would ask how often a main character is thought mad for trying to save the world, but he or she goes ahead and saves it anyway. (Hint: it happens a lot.) Therefore, the quote really does apply to science fiction and fantasy. To the second criticism, all I have to say is that some very profound ideas can come from humor.
In case you have any ideas about mad meaning angry or livid, let me set you straight—that is not at all what it means. I am in no way giving anyone permission to run around in life being furious all the time as long as fainting is not involved. (Although I would be curious to know if people ever faint because they’re really angry. That would be an interesting sight—one moment he or she is yelling and red in the face and the next moment the person keels over in a dead faint.) Nor do I mean that we should run in frenzied circles as the character in Austen’s story did. Personally, that sounds exhausting. No, I like to think of mad as meaning crazy.
Perhaps the idea of being crazy as often as we want sounds crazy (meaning that by writing this post I’ve accomplished the first part of the quote), but I like to view it as meaning other people think we’re crazy because we’re daring. When we’re running mad, we get the look that Frodo is given after he declares that he will take the ring to Mordor. You know, the look that has a glint of admiration in it but also says, “How on earth will you possibly do that?” Or, when surrounded by less understanding people, we get the “one does not simply walk into Mordor” speech that Boromir gave earlier in the scene.
The fainting is to be taken as less than literal as well. Unless you are a fainting goat or a stereotyped princess, avoiding fainting shouldn’t be much of a problem anyway. I prefer to think of fainting in the archaic sense of losing courage or spirit.
Basically, what this quote means to me is that we should courageously seek after what others deem impossible or difficult. And I would also throw in that we should seek after what we personally deem impossible or difficult.
I think one of the reasons why I love science fiction and fantasy so much is because the stories are about accomplishing impossible things. If Katniss Everdeen can topple the government that had been enslaving her country for seventy-five years and replace it with one that won’t send children off to kill each other, then maybe I can do my math homework.
In all seriousness, though, I feel like science fiction and fantasy is more than an escape. It can give us courage to face our own less exciting difficulties. I’ve been to many different panels with writers or actors and heard countless stories of fans being able to face their own lives because the characters in a book series or television show faced their imaginary ones. We seem designed to relate what we see, hear, or read to ourselves, and if there’s a layer of fiction to a story, it makes the pain of loss or the exhaustion of illness or any number of difficulties faced both in life and fiction easier to process and accept.
Science fiction and fantasy also make it easier to believe there is a way to overcome our own difficulties. It doesn’t happen all the time, but most of the time the heroes don’t die despite all odds being against them. They also happen to save the world instead. And these fictional triumphs help us to remember that “crazy” ideas are proved correct and “impossible” actions are accomplished in the real world. Like how Copernicus was right about the earth orbiting the sun and a student named Dantzig was able to solve unsolvable math problems because he mistook them for homework.
If we read a story about someone who tries to be turned into a dragon even though he or she is part of a family of dragon slayers, then maybe we can follow our dream to be a writer even if we’re part of a family of accountants. (Not to say that accountants can’t also be writers—I give free writing reign to any accountants who so desire it.)
One reason why I love Leading Edge is because it takes this ability to inspire courage in our daily lives and gives it to us in small doses. If you’ve ever had to care for an ornery, sick relative, then you’ll be able to relate to Maggie when she chases after her sick grandfather, who also happens to be a wizard. If you’ve ever felt different or shy, then you’ll understand Celeste, a girl that can hear the thoughts of grass and trees. (Both of their tales are told in Issue 67 3/4.) Stories are really about our lives, so take courage and do the impossible. And remember, “Run mad as often as you choose, but do not faint.”
To the Edge and Beyond,