Last night I went with the family to see a stage version of A Christmas Carol. Not high on my list of things to do, but it was a fun production with a lot of special effects. Mostly, though, I spent more time watching the reactions of the two kids right in front of me. One was a boy of about six, the other a girl of about four. When Jacob Marley shambled out on that stage, thunder crashing and chains rattling, the boy stood up to get a better look while the girl started crying and switched over to her father's lap for protection. But despite their different reactions neither could pull themselves away from the story. They fully believed and were fully involved in what was happening on that stage from beginning to end.
It reminded me of an arguement I had with my dad when I was a little kid. I was also about six. It was a Saturday morning and we were sitting at the kitchen table eating cold cereal and watching a Fantastic Four cartoon. I can't remember exactly what started it, but my dad started trying to convince me that the cartoon wasn't real life. But I wouldn't have any of it. I pointed right at the t.v. screen when Mr. Fantastic had his rubbery arms stretched out several hundred yards to catch some bad guy and said, "That's real, Dad,". My little kid brain just couldn't seperate the magic of that cartoon world from the reality of everyday life.
Which I guess is what I look for most of all in a piece of fiction. A story, a concept well developed enough and combined with language enough that I totally, fully believe in what's happening on the page. As I get older it seems that the pieces that do this become harder and harder to find. Gargoyle 49, for example, only holds a couple pieces that do this for me (I'll get a review on it later). I place the blame more on me than on the writing out there, though. I walk through life, more and more of a Scrooge everyday, looking for those pieces of writing, music, painting, etc to jar me out of my Scrooge-ness and back to those joyful, gullible moments of childhood belief. The difference between me and the character from the Dickens story is that I know the work is out there somewhere, and I'll keep looking.