Mythology and Archetype
Many of the gods, demigods, heroes, creatures and monsters of mythology are archetypes, often symbolizing principles of the natural world, or aspects of human personality and behavior. What if this concept were extended somewhat further to explain our modern fascination with fantasy and science fiction settings, or other material in which the settings are surreal, but themselves symbolize an important narrative theme?
Our Own World as Archetype
Let's first look at the world around us now, from which we launch ourselves into fictional realms. What could the archetypal nature of this world possibly be? There are at least a few answers, and you might find some to be rather striking.
The first is the most obvious in contrast to the worlds of fiction: this world is Real. Unless we care to engage in a rather questionable metaphysics in which "somewhere out there" fictional stories are as real as our own, these stories all exist in a meta-narrative which is our own world. Any effect they may have on thoughts, world events, and the course of history must happen here to happen at all.
This leads us to consider a second Virtue of this world, which is Consequence. While there can be plot-holes in a fictional narrative (or even a supposed "non-fictional" one!), this world itself would seem to be completely coherent and self-consistent in its material events. While the subjective events of individuals and groups are vastly more complex, they too seem to have regular features which are not always surprising, at least in hindsight.
Worlds Endowed with Virtues
The other worlds available to us have other Virtues to offer; amongst these innumerable Virtues, one is Meaning, and another is Truth. Note that I offer these Virtues as being distinct from Reality and Consequence. Our own world gives whatever we learn, from whatever source, a mechanism of Material Causation, but there have historically been other forms of Causation to consider! Fictional worlds offer the opportunity to conduct rather elaborate experiments in the many ways individuals can interpret their events, giving them a sense of Meaning. Some portrayals give us the sense that if our own world worked in a slightly different way, or if the events of history had taken a different turn, that many elements of these worlds could easily be mistaken for elements of our own, conveying a perception of their being True.
Often in a review or examination of a story, the setting itself gets a rather small nod as to its importance in the narrative, and sadly, often this is rather deserved. What then would happen if stories were written in which the setting itself had a pivotal role in the narrative, even as it seemed only to constantly lurk in the background?
Narratives of Conflict
We live in a world which is not the best of all possible worlds, but is the most plausible of all possible worlds. In almost every narrative, there is a conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist, which almost always hinges on one party's moral failings. Some stories do pit Man against Nature, but that's not what I'm aiming at here. If our limited perceptions of the world are in fact the real cause of our conflicts in the real world, perhaps broadening our horizons will reduce both our willingness and our need to engage in conflict! P:D