20 / CHRONICLESnbirth. Another is that reahstic fiction is none so real as itsnadmirers Hke to pretend. NaturaHsm especially tends tonverge toward, and often to break into, phantasmagoria in itsnmoments of harshest intensity. If the climaxes of such worksnas Frank Norris’ The Pit or Zola’s Germinal or L’Assomoirnstood separate and complete, no one would ever recognizenthem as realistic.nIn the end, the strictest adherent of realism would deprivenus even of the parables of Jesus. With his cold insistence onnthe “bottom line” of literary discourse, he sees it all as anparticular kind of sermonizing, and he would like thensermons without exempla. He exhibits the blindness thatnvisionary fiction is designed to alleviate.nYet he is correct about the nature of its deficiencies. Thenvisionary mode can make no pretense of any broad understandingnof society or politics or culture; it draws no figuresnwho embody the aspirations of a social or economic class; itnnever deals with racism, economic struggle, labor problems,nor agrarian ruin. When it sometimes deals withnpolitical injustice, it does so only by oblique implication. Itnis directly concerned with the problem of the salvation ofnthe individual soul by means of its understanding of itselfnand through its commerce with superior beings.nThese superior beings may be avatars or representatives ofnGod; or they may be lesser gods of one sort or another; ornthey may be supernatural entities like angels or demons; ornthey may be fantastic or ordinary persons with specialnknowledge or powers. In visionary fiction we meet cronesnand witches, magicians, priests, philosophers, poets, artists,nsingers, “little people” like elves, dwarves, or children, andnwise animals with the ability to speak, unicorns or ravens ornwolves.nThe purposes of all these figures are threefold: They makenpossible or at least facilitate the questing protagonist’s entryninto the Other World; they guide him through this worldnand explain, in whatever manner they see fit, the significancenof the objects in it and of the events that take place;nand they usually—though they do not always—see thentraveler safe home again.nThis Other World that is journeyed through has ansymbiotic nature. Seemingly independent in itself, it isnactually only our ordinary, everyday world transvalued. It isna strange and marvelous world in which spiritual understanding,nthough not easy, is a firm possibility—as it is fornonly a very few of us in the world we are accustomed to. Butnthat shortcoming is, as E.T.A. Hoffman points out, ournown fault: “Favourable reader, while you are in the faerynworld of glorious wonder, where both rapture and horrornmay be evoked; where the goddess of earnestness herself willnwaft her veil aside and show her countenance . . . whilenyou are in this region which the spirit lays open to us inndreams, make an effort to recognize the well-known formsnwhich hover around you in fitful brightness even innordinary life. You will then find that this glorious kingdomnnnlies much closer at hand than you ever supposed.” LordnDunsany jokes that his novel mostiy shows no more thann”the face of the fields we know, and ordinary English woodsnand a common village and valley,” and he adds that thesenscenes are at least “a good twenty or twenty-five miles fromnthe border of Elfland.”nIn visionary fiction, a searching dialectic obtains betweennthe two worlds. The world we live in physically exists; itnonly makes no sense. Its sister world, the one the author hasninvented or discovered, may or may not exist physically, butnit makes a highly dramatic spiritual sense. Yet it cannot existnalone, since it is finally an interpretation of our customarynworld. It is mysterious, but its mysteries are obliquenexplanations of the world we ordinarily live in and ordinarilyndo not understand.nThis dialectic asserts a primacy between them. Thenvisionary author will come down heavily in favor of thenfields we know. In Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus, thenquester Maskull and his companion guide Polecrab straynthrough the genuinely strange but utterly convincing landscapenof Tormance. Yet Maskull observes that “this world ofnyours, and perhaps mine too, for that matter, doesn’t givenme the slightest impression of a dream, or an illusion, ornanything of the sort. I know it’s really here at this moment,nand it’s exactiy as we’re seeing it, you and I. Yet it’s false. It’snfalse in this sense, Polecrab. Side by side with it anothernworld exists, and that other world is the true one, and thisnone is deceitful, to the very core.”nThe author asserts the primacy of our customary worldnbecause it is, after all, the subject matter of his work; the lifenlived within it is the substance under the examination of hisnextraordinary lens. The form that a visionary fiction takesnis, then, almost invariably that of an educational journey.nHis odyssey through a landscape peopled with angels andndemons, mages and monsters, opens the traveler’s eyes tonthe glories and terrors of his mundane existence—which isnnow at last comprehended to be a supramundane existence.nA transcendent harmony is the goal aimed at. After Mr.nVane, the half-willing searcher of George Macdonald’snLilith, has endured his necessary trials, he discovers thisnharmony. “My bare feet seemed to love every plant theyntrod upon. The world and my being, its life and mine, werenone. The microcosm and macrocosm were at lengthnatoned, at length in harmony.” He has attained thisnknowledge of harmony in the Other World, but he isndetermined to carry it back with him into the world of hisnformer existence:nNow I knew that life and truth were one; that lifenmere and pure is in itself bliss; that where being isnnot bliss, it is not life, but life-in-death. Everyninspiration of the dark wind that blew where itnlisted, went out a sigh of thanksgiving. At last Inwas. I lived, and nothing could touch my life.nThis passage, lifted out of the context of Lilith’s happynending, may be too easy, may sound too PoUyanna, forncontemporary taste. W.H. Auden remarked that “the Scyllanand Gharybdis of Dream Literature are incoherence andnmechanical allegory,” but there is another worse dangerntoo. It continually runs the risk of falling into soft religiosity,ninto Sunday school pietism, into a kind of Pre-n