I talk a lot about fiction as wish fulfillment, by which I mean fiction as a means of playing out a personal fantasy.
Fiction writers choose characters they want to be inside, pains they need to work through, problems they want to solve. Some write obvious wish fulfillment, with heroes who always look good, use their powers wisely, and win every battle. Some write what looks like anti-wish fulfillment, inventing the worst and scariest things that could happen (or have happened), gaining power over them. When the author’s fantasies and the reader’s don’t overlap, the writing will be called self-indulgent, incomprehensible, boring, or even immoral.
Fantasies are a very individual matter, easy to sneer at, hard to assess rationally.
I have become skeptical that there are acceptable and unacceptable fantasies. Either you like someone’s fantasies or you don’t. And we all know people like stupid things, right? Even smart people like stupid things.
I have become skeptical that there are pathetic and non-pathetic fantasies. It’s meaningless to say that the girl-gets-swept-off-her-feet fantasies in a bodice-ripper or Twilight are “pathetic.”* It’s meaningless to say that the power-and-charm fantasies of James Bond flicks and superhero comics are “pathetic.”** The truth is, fantasies without ambitions can be considered pathetic by definition—but they’re also no more pathetic than any form of play.
I have become skeptical that there are healthy and unhealthy fantasies. No matter how realistic and noble a fantasy may be, it can be taken to excess and turn into a poor substitute for reality. Meanwhile, somebody with utterly deranged fantasies can make a few bucks writing gory crime thrillers or kinky romances, practice moderation elsewhere in life, and be considered generally healthy.
*For the record, I haven’t read Twilight and I’m not sure I’ve ever read a bona fide bodice-ripper. I’m just going by things people say.
**Though surprisingly few people do, I’ve noticed. It’s almost like men’s and boys’ fantasies are tolerated and encouraged while women’s and girls’ are treated harshly.