Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes


(& Escapist Fiction)

see also classic, popular, and representative literature; literary fiction

thanks to

Oxford English Dictionary: Escapism. The tendency to seek, or the practice of seeking, distraction from what normally has to be endured.

Google definition: the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.

Escapist fiction or escapist literature: Literature that, instead of confronting and engaging with social, psychological, or material problems, seeks to escape them by identifying with uncomplicated, virtuous, and attractive characters who enjoy swashbuckling adventures in exotic settings.

On the spectrum of whether literature or art entertains or instructs, escapist 2. the practice of engaging in activities that enable one to avoid having to deal with reality, as the persistent attendance of science fiction films, the reading of fantasy literature, etc.

Wikipedia: . . . the word "escapism" often carries a negative connotation, suggesting that escapists are unhappy, with an inability or unwillingness to connect meaningfully with the world and to take necessary action. . . . However, many challenge the idea that escapism is fundamentally and exclusively negative. . . . [Regarding literature describing utopian societies,] the German social philosopher Ernst Bloch wrote that utopias and images of fulfilment, however regressive they might be, also included an impetus for a radical social change. According to Bloch, social justice could not be realized without seeing things fundamentally differently. Something that is mere "daydreaming" or "escapism" from the viewpoint of a technological-rational society might be a seed for a new and more humane social order . . . ."

Wikipedia: Escapist Fiction is fiction which provides a psychological escape from thoughts of everyday life by immersing the reader in exotic situations or activities.

Genres which can include elements of escapist fiction include Bodice Rippers / Romance novels, detective novels, fantasy fiction, horror fiction, pulp fiction, science fiction, spy novels, thrillers.

Related terms: formula fiction, genre fiction, pulp magazines

Sana Hussain, "Literary or Not—the Reality of Escapist Fiction." The Missing Slate 12 (Summer 2014): Critics and academicians classify escapist fiction and the genres of science-fiction, thriller, mystery, romance and fantasy, commonly classified under it, as sub-literary, deeming them unworthy of being regarded as true literature. Charges of shallowness and superficiality are brought up against escapist genre fiction, with its worth denigrated to entertainment alone. Not to disregard any motivation to read for purely aesthetic purposes, but the assertion that escapist fiction offers nothing more than the mere pleasure of escape is both false and unfounded. . . .

Growing up with an old-school English teacher as a parent, the distinction was always made clear in my home. After a certain age, reading classics or literary fiction became an activity that was rewarded and encouraged, whereas reading a piece of escapist novel by Sidney Sheldon or Danielle Steele was severely looked down upon. And while I was never barred from reading any of this “trash”, there was significant shaming involved. So much so that I never actually owned a book by either of these authors for more than a month – I would read them and quickly trade them in for more “respectable” books at old book shops. This hierarchical division of books deemed worthy of being read against those that weren’t was neither right nor beneficial, in my opinion. Classification of literature should only be on the merits of good and bad writing. And reading, whether escapist or otherwise, should be free from expectation and judgment. . . .

Pitted against its supposedly superior counterpart, realism, escapism is considered inconsequential and superfluous. Unless the work overtly exposes the bitter realities of life or presents the readers with some profound philosophy, it is thought of less as “serious writing” and more as “light reading”.

But what is perhaps not understood by critics is that escape does not mean a denial or evasion of real life issues; rather, it presents a more layered and complex way of looking at the world. Lloyd Alexander, popular fantasy writer, defends his genre against such an allegation, saying that “fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It is a way to understand it.” . . .

See also Philip Martin, "Fantasy is not Escapist Literature," 24 June 2013 


thanks to