I generally fall into the science fiction & fantasy category as a writer. I like to connect my stories to the home town I grew up in. It is a place called Rowan, a tiny farm town in North Central Iowa. In my fiction I call it Norwall, an anagram for Rowan with two “L’s” added, one for “Love” and one for “Laughter”. But the stories I tell about the town, or in some way connect to the town, are all about alien invasions, lycanthropy which is the disease that causes werewolves, fairies in the Kingdom of Tellosia which is located in the farms and fields north of town, and Iowegians who were real when I knew them in real life, but have been transformed by my imagination. So, I have to believe that Norwall, like Narnia, Pellucidar, and Middle Earth, is an imaginary world.
Imaginary worlds have a definite and important function. In his new book, The Book of Legendary Lands, Umberto Eco puts forth the theory that imaginary worlds are basically a utopian sort of dream… the perfect place to live out the life you imagine you should be living. (Here is a link.) This rings fundamentally true with me. I spent the Summer of 1976 in Middle Earth, eluding the Nazgul and helping Frodo and Sam sneak the one ring into Mordor. Heroic tales set in an imaginary world help you to transform from the psychotically depressed youth you were with a secret so terrible (being the victim of a childhood sexual assault) that it was destroying you from the inside out, into the selfless and altruistic adult you needed to be to cope with life in a dark and frightful world. We never truly live in the real world around us. We live in the imaginary construct of that world that our mind creates and interprets. I lived in other imaginary lands as well as a youth. I visited other towns like Norwall in Winesburg, Ohio and Green Town, Illinois,
I roamed the stars with Ben Bova, Ursala LeGuin, and Andre Norton. I lived on Mars with Ray Bradbury. I found in those places the golden ideals that would become my treasure trove after a life of vicarious adventuring. It would give my own story-telling the background and the sort of grounding in reality that only excellent examples could provide.
So here, now, is the most important thing I have to say about imaginary worlds; We live in them constantly, and probably could not live without them. I offer this invitation now as this world grows darker two days after the Paris attacks…”Come live in my imaginary world for a time, and open up the gateways to yours so that I may also visit them.”