|the avoidance of reality by absorption of the mind in entertainment or in an imaginative situation, activity, etc.|
Above is probably the most common conception about escapism. It is often used in the strongest criticism against fantasy. However, when you think about it, and really study the definition, escapism applies to all realms of literature. In nonfiction the read escapes to another reality of the past or of another person. In fiction, to a fictitious place or series of events to meet a fictitious cast of characters. When you think about it, all art, of any kind or medium, can be considered escapist. In any entertaining or artistic endeavor, the participant leaves the reality of his or her time, place or experience. But not wholely so.
I would argue that escapism is not an avoidance of reality, though it may appear so on the surface, but fleeing towards reality. In our modern world, much about everyday life and the world at large remains subconscious, unseen and unappreciated. Escapism is not an avoidance of reality. If that were so, everyday we live in a state of escape. Escapism is better seen as a clarification of reality, the evokation of reality. It is the moment we cast off the shackles and blinders of modern society to truely see the world and study our life.
In literature, the reader is guided through a story, often through a world much like our own. Here we finally see the wonders of our world. By “escaping” we find a deeper understanding of our innermost thoughts and values, we rediscover the world we’ve grown accostomed to. In life we become so inured to it all, everything becomes comonplace, everything is washed out. In the arts, in fantasy, in escapism we can find release. It awakens the senses from the slumber of familiarity, making the whole world new in our sight.
Escapism is most definitely not something to be rejected. It should be embraced as the last vestige and path to the wonders of our world.
Thinking of this brings to mind the first Elves, born of the banks of the Cuivienen. They awoke in awe and wonder, finding all fair and beautiful to behold. Through literature, especially Tolkien’s works, the reader can escape and return as one reborn to the beauty of the world.