Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Fairy Tales and Fantasy for Artists - p11

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Awe and Transcendence in Fantasy

 by Ty Hulse

Awe is of particular interest to artists because a large part of this powerful gratification is fulfilled through visuals. Awe can be found in “a beautiful seascape in the final scene of The Shawshank Redemption in which the two friends are finally reunited or grand vistas in video games such as Skyrim presented at the end of dangerous areas.” (Possler and Raney) Awe is also found in images of beautiful people, dangerous and charismatic figures such as Darth Vader or skilled speech givers. Specifically awe is; 

Experienced as being much larger than the self, or the self’s ordinary level of experience of frame of reference” (Keltner and Haidt, 2003) Second, due to their novel and unusual characteristics, awe-inducing stimuli challenge a person’s established understanding and cannot easily be assimilated into existing mental structures. Rather, a person has to update her mental concepts to make sense of the experience, a process often called “accommodation”

Awe comes from things that seem vast, that is things that make a person feel small and force them to transcend their ordinary frame of reference so that they must accommodate new cognitive processes to try to grasp what they are experiencing. This sense of awe can come from fear, aesthetic pleasure (seeing something beautiful and grand), admiration (often of someone’s extraordinary skill), elevation (from witnessing or being a part of virtue), and elements of the uncanny or supernatural. Darth Vader is specifically mentioned as one who can create negative awe, likely because of his raw power and supernatural, and during his first appearance his little understood supernatural powers. This use of misunderstood and supernatural powers, as well as natural beauty, to elicit feelings of awe is an important part of what fairies do as well.


Again, you will recall the sometimes terrifying and sometimes generous, but often awe inspiring and inexplicable nature of fairies. It seems probable that through their stories they could inspire a certain sense of negative and positive awe in people. People tell stories to achieve some gratification, and during hard times stories of dangerous fairies often became popular. Mehmet, Peacock state of transcendent emotions that; 


For people who have lost everything, the struggle may seem like a futile attempt to endlessly push a rock uphill… Paradoxically, the greatest discovery of dialectical psychology is radical acceptance, the idea that to embrace and make the best use of all of one’s pain for a better life is a better alternative to finding healing and flourishing…. 

the worst of times is also the best of times, but we cannot celebrate the best without overcoming and transcending the worst. This sums up the power of self-transcendence, which achieves the dual purpose of transforming suffering into resilience and motivating us to pursue the highest ideals. 

In sum, when probably understood, self-transcendence represents what is good and noble about humanity. It is like a symphony celebrating the heroic efforts of those who sacrifice themselves in order to lift others above their suffering to a higher ground of faith, hope, and love.


Transcendence and awe have been associated with more positive affects that could be easily named. They can induce mood improvement, prosocial actions such as generosity and kindness, as well as aiding people win mental and even physical health. As importantly, such awe is something that gratifies us. This is likely why “The Lion King” and “Avatar” were so successful, the incredibly beautiful vistas and the spiritual elements in each gave people ‘goosebumps’. Because beautiful speeches can induce awe it might very well be that people telling stories of beautiful nature and wonderous magical beings such as fairies could have had a similar effect on people’s psyches. Regardless, however, it is now possible to take advantage of people’s modern reactions to beautiful art and awe inspiring stories. 


C.S. Lewis wrote that “Fairy land arouses a longing for he knows not what. It stirs and troubles him with the dim sense of something beyond his reach, and far from dulling or emptying the actual world, it gives it a new depth. As with Fairy stories, video games and similar fantasy stories have the ability to inspire feelings of awe. 

Video games variously reflect not only the beauty of transcendence but also the terrifying intrusion of transcendence. Hayse (2011) argues that The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (Nintendo EAD, 2002) mediates the longing for transcendent beauty in its art, music, narrative, and procedural structure. The game’s brightly tinted palette and cel-shaded animation evokes a Pixar-like quality of wonder, once restricted to the silver screen. The music teases its hearers with a rolling sense of anticipation that rarely resolves into the tonic. The narrative mediates the monomythic Hero’s Journey of separation, initiation, and return (Campbell, 1962). A serialized structure regulates this hope-filled quest at a pace that the player cannot accelerate, insistently pointing toward the revelatory horizon of eucatastrophe but delaying its dawning. Likewise, the procedural structure incrementally reveals layer upon layer of unfolding mystery, tantalizing the player with actions and artifacts that prove sufficient for the present moment while hinting at greater vistas that remain unexplored for the time being. In contrast, games such as Alone in the Dark (Infogrames, 1992), Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (Silicon Knights, 2002), and Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (Bethesda, 2005) taunt the player with the horrifying threat of transcendent intrusion. (Hemenover and Bowman)

 It is interesting to note that the feelings of awe in games are best elicited during the quite moments of the game because the players need to be able to pay attention to the environment around them and to contemplate what is happening (Possler, Musik, Hannover, and Klimmt). Similarly, people who were feeling a lot of stress were more likely to select games that had low levels of demand, as a means of mood repair. These players too tended to gravitate towards games that satisfied their need for autonomy and competence. The addition of these later two factors is likely why researchers have found games to be better sources of mood repair than most other forms of media. (Bowman and Hemenover)

Not all awe is the same of course, there are six flavors of awe; threat, beauty, ability, virtue, and supernatural. 

Threat-based awe is likely accompanied by fear; stimuli that may elicit threat-based awe include a charismatic leader like Hitler or an extreme weather event like an electrical storm. 

Beauty-based awe is flavored with “aesthetic pleasure” and may be elicited by a person, a natural (e.g., the Grand Canyon), or a work of art (e.g., Monet’s Water Lilies). 

Ability-based awe is thought to co-occur with admiration of a person’s “exceptional ability, talent, and skill.” Examples include seeing an especially talented musician or stellar athlete. 

Virtue-based awe—the awe one feels when in the presence of someone displaying virtue and strength of character—would likely be accompanied by feelings of elevation. An example of virtue-based awe might be reading about the lives of saints. 

Supernatural causality-based awe—as one might experience if they saw an angel, a ghost, or a floating object—will be tinted with an “element of the uncanny,” which can be terrifying or glorious depending on the source. It is important to note that these “flavorings” are theoretical variations of awe experiences rather than experimentally validated categories. (Allen, Summer)

Experiences of awe cause one to feel smaller, but at the same time cause one to feel a greater connection with the world around them. In a way awe is an altered state of consciousness, as much as it is an emotion. The state of awe fosters empathy and altruism, while also calming a person, allowing them to feel better about themselves and the world. (Long and Cupchik) The value and power of awe may be one reason that video games frequently utilize religious architecture. Certainly “Videogames commonly simulate the process of personal transformation, the process of social and environmental interconnection, and the process of transcendent lure.” (Hayse)