Falling in love again

The announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor Who has flooded social media with rivers of bile, both from those who loathe the idea with every ounce of their being and equally those who love it but despise those who are even slightly equivocal on the subject. As so often, some people make a great show of tolerating everyone - except those who hold a different opinion.
I have seen a lot of rather sneering claims that large swathes of science fiction fans are lost in a world of fantasy and emotionally inadequate because of it (or vice versa, depending on whether a given pontificator thinks the chicken came first or the egg). Observing these shenanigans, I have been reminded that many readers openly wept when they read the death of Little Nell when Dickens' serial hit the stands in 1841. When one business tycoon read A Christmas Carol two years later, he was so stung by his own similarity to Scrooge that he immediately gave his wage slaves the rest of the day off. People famously still write letters to 221b Baker Street, expecting the master sleuth to solve their domestic mysteries - despite the passage of 130 since his "birth" in literature.
Story is not, and never was, confined to the written word. It began as an oral tradition, and remains so still, an now w also have stories articulated through radio, TV, film, internet podcasts, and no doubt other forms which I am too technologically inept to know about. Fifteen hundred years ago people doubtless sat in halls enraptured by skalds and scops singing of Beowulf - or enraged by them if the story world did not conform to the one they already heard describe by some previous storyteller and loved. A thousand years before that the tales were of Odysseus, Herakles, Aset, Enkiddu, and countless others. The current fixation with TV shows is just a continuance of an age-old love of sagas. An Australian soap actress who played a rather poisonous character eventually quit the part because she got so tired of random strangers berating her in the street for being a nasty old cow, seemingly unable to distinguish between her performance on screen and the fact that she was a totally different person in real life - and I cannot help but wonder how many of those people currently scoffing at the silliness of sci-fi fans will themselves sit glued to the screen in front of their favourite soap, and discuss the plots endlessly with their friends and work colleagues the next day. Indeed, how many of them know more about the lives and loves of fictional soap characters than they do about their neighbours - or even relatives?
As the educational theorist Kieran Egan has said, we are narrative creatures with an innate love of story that leads us to best absorb information if it is presented in story form. We do not simply like stories - we love them. People may get the hots for Mr Darcy or other specific characters, but they fall more fundamentally in love with the whole mise-en-scene in which such iconic characters exist. If a term for this exists, I've yet to come across it, so I will coin the term mythomania (I was going to call it mythophilia, but that turns out to be something altogether more torrid... look it up, but clear your browse history afterwards) - an intense and consuming passion for mythos, for well-told stories and the characters that inhabit them. I am not describing a sexual love, but an engrossing fascination and passion for a world of fiction - be that alien time travellers, hobbits and orcs, old lady detectives, Texan oil magnates, squabbling Eastend tribes,or whatever else grabs your soul. It is a mania - love, as the Greeks so often told us, is a form of madness in which we become blind to the plot holes and character flaws in our favoured genre, we yearn to meet up with the people who mean so much to us and share the pleasure of their company with others, we get narked when others make snide remarks about those we love, and become grieved by their loss - such as when the author of a much-loved series dies, or a TV show is cancelled. Like any form of love it is marked by highs and lows, thrills and weeping, and the expenditure of far more time and money than any person not in love thinks is due.
People rarely like it when the ones they love change dramatically, and some of that can be seen now - just as it has been seen whenever a new spin is placed on Holmes, Jane Austen, Frankenstein, Christie, or any of the other story giants that have their multitude of mythomaniacs.
It is a mania, a madness, but one integral to human nature and as old as the camp fires around which our ancestors sat dreaming of beings more real than the flesh and blood around them. Ridicule it f you will, but you'll succumb it it as well sooner or later. You may not love the ones that I do, but stories will claim your soul. Or forge you a soul if you were born without one.


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