Escape Literature

Just because it's escapist doesn't mean it's not good literature!

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Book. Andres Harambour/iStockphoto

As the name suggests, so-called escape literature is written for entertainment, and to let the reader become totally immersed in a fantasy or alternate reality. Much of this kind of literature falls into the "guilty pleasure" category (think romance novels). 

But there is a wide variety of different literary genres that could be labeled as escapist: science fiction, westerns, magical realism, even historical fiction.

It's worth noting that just because something can be categorized as escape literature doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't have higher literary value. 

Why Escape Literature is Popular

It's not difficult to understand why escape literature, in all its formats, is well-liked. Being able to immerse oneself in a fictional reality, where troubles and problems are easily recognized and solved, is a comfort provided by movies, books and other forms of entertainment. 

Truly good works of escape literature create a believable alternate universe, whose inhabitants struggle with dilemmas that the reader might encounter. It's a crafty way to explore moral and ethical themes within an entertaining framework. 

Examples of Escape Literature

The most compelling escapist literature includes works that describe characters in an entirely new, fictional universe. J.R.R. Tolkein's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy is an example of a canonical literature series, complete with its own "history" and completely made-up languages, that follows elves, dwarves and humans through a mythical quest to save their world.

In the series, Tolkien explores the themes of right versus wrong and how small acts of bravery can be significant. He also pursued his fascination with linguistics by developing new languages such as Elvish for the majestic elves in the stories. 

Of course, there are plenty of examples of escape literature that are little more that pop culture entertainment.

And that's fine too, just as long as students of the genre can differentiate between the two.

When Escapism is Just Entertainment

The "Twilight" series by Stephenie Meyer, which grew into a massive movie franchise with a cult following is a good example of lowbrow escapist literature. Its themes of love and romance between a vampire and a human (who happens to be friends with a werewolf) is a thinly-veiled religious allegory, but not exactly a canonical work.

Still, the appeal of "Twilight"  is undeniable: the series was a top seller in both its book and movie forms. is undeniable: the series was a top seller in both its book and movie forms.

Another popular fantasy series often compared with the "Twilight" books, is the"Harry Potter" series by J.K. Rowling (although the quality of the latter is generally considered superior). While some may argue that "Harry Potter" is an example of interpretive literature, which compels a deeper exploration of the real world through literary themes, its themes of magical workings in a school for wizards offers an escape from reality.

Difference Between Escapist and Interpretive Literature

Escape literature is frequently discussed alongside interpretive literature, and at times the line between the two genres becomes a little blurry.

Interpretive literature seeks to help readers understand deeper questions of life, death, hate, love, sorrow and other elements of human existence. While interpretive literature can be equally as entertaining as its cousin escape, in general, the goal is to bring readers closer to understanding reality. Escape literature wants to take us away from reality, immersing us in a whole new world (but often with the same old problems).