Mary Robinette Kowal – The Top Five Fantasy Films to Relieve Stress

Every time I look at the news there’s some new problem of epic proportions fraught with controversy facing mankind. Epic, that is, without the benefit of magic spells and stunning displays of swordsmanship. I’m referring of course to fantasy, where the world’s problems may seem insolvable but at least everyone agrees on what the problem is: There’s a single villain who’s causing a mess and all that’s required is for the hero to swoop in and save the day. Simple enough, right? Granted, the solution comes at the last minute and is often harrowing, but at the end of the film the problem is solved and everyone lives happily ever after. Given a choice, wouldn’t you solve the financial crisis with a single swift spell? Well, fantasy may not be able to solve your problems — yet — but at least it can help you forget about them. Here’s a rundown of fantasy films that speak to today’s epic crises.

1. Election Fatigue: The Sword in the Stone (1963)
Tired of the endless election coverage, the attack ads, and the debates? The Sword in the Stone settles the whole question of succession by, well, sticking a sword in a stone. You don’t have to listen to pundits making predictions about who is likely to pull the sword out. Instead, enjoy Merlin the Magician as he helps young Wart grow into King Arthur. Wouldn’t it be nice if all rulers came with a magical adviser of unquestionable wisdom?

2. Global Warming: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
Sweating over climate change? Pick up a copy of Narnia, where the rule of the White Witch means it’s always winter and never Christmas. The four Pevensie children slip through the back of a magic wardrobe into a land of ice and snow. However unintentional it may be, the whole film flips global warming on its head. When temperatures start to rise, that’s a good thing because it means that “Aslan is on the move” and will put an end to the rule of the White Witch. To do so he has to make a sacrifice that makes the Kyoto Protocol look like a walk in the park. So settle back with a cup of hot cocoa and cheer as the glaciers melt in Narnia.

3. Subprime Mortgage Crisis: Labyrinth (1986)
At its heart, Labyrinth is about making bad deals. Fifteen-year old Sarah accidentally wishes her baby brother away and has to go on a quest to rescue him from the Goblin King. In the middle of the film there’s a scene where Sarah has forgotten what she’s searching for and winds up in a junkyard. An old homeless woman struggling with a massive bag shows her the way back to her room. For a moment, it looks like Sarah has gone home. She starts picking up things, old memories, and they cling to her. As she begins to disappear under a sack like the old woman’s, Sarah remembers realizes her accumulated treasures are just worthless trifles taking her away from what’s really important: Her family. With her eye on the goal, Sarah is able to rescue her brother, defeat the Goblin King and return to her real home.

4. Terrorism: The Lord of the Rings (2001)
In The Lord of the Rings, you’ve got your basic tyrant overlord, Sauron, who created the One Ring to conquer Middle Earth. As his power grows, armies of orcs and the Ringwraiths ravage the land, destroying homes and families. The fate of the world rests on the shoulders of Frodo, who must take the Ring to Mount Doom and destroy it. Let me put it another way: To defeat the terrorist Sauron, cities are destroyed, massive battles are waged, a daring few struggle to the edge of exhaustion to toss a ring into a volcano — and terrorism is defeated. If only it were that easy.

5. Depression: The Neverending Story (1984)
It’s probably been awhile since you’ve seen The Neverending Story. Trust me, out of all of these movies, this one’s worth watching again. Bastian is the frequent victim of bullies, he has trouble at school, and he escapes regularly into books. One day, he gets pulled all the way into the world of a book. The thing is that Bastian’s words and ideas create the world that he’s in. On the one hand, it’s just a film about a magic place, but on the other hand it’s a reminder that our own personal narratives have a strong impact on how we live our lives — a concrete example of how our world view can shape our reality. That’s not too bad an outlook when you’re down in the dumps.

Mary Robinette Kowal is the winner of the 2008 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She is also the art director at Shimmer Magazine and a professional puppeteer. Her columns appears Fridays.