Fiction or fantasy

What is the same about Harry Potter and Tom Brown (of Tom Brown's Schooldays)?  They are both, of course, one hundred percent fictional schoolboys. The obvious difference is that whereas Harry purports to be living in another world, a  world dreamed up in the imagination of author J K Rowling; the second lives in this one, the one of Rugby School, the real world as inhabited by Thomas Hughes, his originator.

You can extend the comparisons at will: Robert Louis Stevenson's Pip Hawkins in the fantasy Treasure Island to Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn living by the real Mississippi river; Lewis Carroll's marvellously dreamlike Alice (in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass) to Louisa May Alcott's famous Little Women, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March.

So what is fantasy anyway? All fiction is fantasy in that the events and the characters are fantasized. Only the places can be sometimes real, sometimes imagined although places always of this world. When the places are out of this world and are not real it is science fiction, which requires the ultimate leap of imagination by both writer and reader. 

I conduct this debate with myself because I have not long finished reading T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, then followed it up with Adrian Greaves's biography, Lawrence of Arabia. Of course Lawrence remains a mystery even after all the millions of words. That is the way he wanted to live - as an enigma even to his family and his closest friends. He was a man made up in his own dreams and of his own dreams; the ultimate fiction.

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