Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Defense of Faery: Moving Past Sidney's Defense

“Give people a fact or idea and you enlighten their mind. Tell them a story
 and you touch their souls.” ~Hasidic proverb
Sir Philip Sidney makes a brilliant defense for poesy (or fiction as it is now called) in his work The Defense of Poesy.  By calling upon classical mindsets, the glory of imagination, and the practical value of poesy, Sidney proves fiction quite essential to the human existance. Just as poesy proves important to the culture, development, and freedom of humans, so the imaginary realm of Faery answers a specific need in humans—not just children— by drawing men closer to God through teaching morality and wonder and giving men a glimpse of Heaven, much more than simple fiction ever could.

In his Defense, Sidney calls poesy the very epitome of art: “no learning is so good as that which teacheth and moveth to virtue…none can both teach and move thereto so much as poetry….ink and paper cannot be to a more profitable purpose employed” (967). He points out only the poet (or fiction writer) actually creates something new, bringing new lands, creatures, and lives into being with mere words. The poet works with nature—not to define or destroy her secrets but to create an image of the way life is and the way which life can be (Sidney 956-957). Sir Philip Sidney sprand to the defense when poesy came under attack in the Elizabethan era. Convinced poesy is morally beneficial, Sidney asserts that poesy is “not being an art of lies but of true doctrine; not of effiminateness, but of notable sirring to courage; not of abusing man’s wit, but of strengthening man’s wit” (968). Poesy’s very aim, to teach and to delight, refines men. With delight, poesy is able “to move men to take that goodness in hand, which without delight they would fly as from a stranger; and teach, to make them know what goodness where unto they are moved” (Sidney 959). Perhaps, though, there is a genre within poesy which better teaches and delights than any other—better than the historical novel, the poem, the realistic fiction, mystery, or any other— a sort of fiction which captures the imagination and makes the world into a Narnia of sorts, if only for a short time. This genre, which teaches men about goodness, nobleness, honor, justice, love, and mercy, goes by the name Fantasy and at its very core rests the tale essential to all men: the fairy tale.

So friends, what do you think? Want to know more?