Fantasy and fiction are easy to get caught up in. Fairytales, stories, and legends can be captivating. They become our temporary escapes from society and our own personal problems. But sometimes the fiction can be confused for reality, and when we get caught up the lines begin to blur. We find ourselves living within the fantasy, and it becomes difficult to separate the trials and tribulations of that world from those of our own lives.
This problem can be especially difficult for actors who have to assume roles for extended periods of time. In my experience with theatrical productions, the actors must quite literally live in the worlds of their characters for the duration of the rehearsals and productions of the show. I have seen actors become engrossed in these roles to the point of detriment, especially if the role requires heavy emotional exertions. One show I was in was about students in a Catholic high school dealing with friendship issues and questioning their faith. Many of the college-age students I was performing among began picking up traits of high-schoolers. We became like students in a school, and the world of Holy Trinity high school became our own. My director knew me only as Emily, my character’s name, and still to this day, even after I later played the role of Katie, believes that is my name. We called the only adult member of the cast “Father Frank” on a regular basis. His real name was Don, but his character name seemed more respectful. I have often had the experience in becoming caught up in a fictional world. The emotional toll that follows afterward, with the end of the show, is strongly linked to the fictional reality we all lived in for months.
This is what I thought of when reading “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers” in Salman Rushdie’s novel East, West. The story centers on the auctioning of the fantastical and omnipotent ruby slippers of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. No, not the slippers used in the film. The actual slippers that Dorothy herself wore. The slippers that transported her home from the land of Oz. The heels she clicked together three times to leave the fantasyland.
People come from far and wide to bid on this incredible item. The narrator himself is anxious to win the bidding. His desire lies in the loss of his lover. He believes that he can get his lover to come back to him if only he could present her with these ruby slippers. He wants to use them to bring her home. Ironically, her name is Gale, which just happens to be Dorothy’s last name. The narrator is right alongside all of the fanatical bidders looking to bring home this piece of fantasy. They are all so enthralled and engrossed in the fiction that they allow it to transport them away from home. It takes them out of the world and into the delusion that the slippers might actually be all powerful. A fantasy world just as titillating as Oz itself.
The narrator bids relentlessly, and he bids high. He is willing, he says, to pay anything to get his love back. He admits he may have built his love up, remembered her falsely. But he wants her back regardless. As he is bidding, however, he seems to be transported to another world, a realm out of the one in which he is bidding. It seems he goes into a fantasy world in his mind. But really he is being transported away from the fantasy, away from the slippers that may or may not be powerful, away from the Gale he remembers, away from the bidding that will help return him to her. He is taken to a world where the fanatics are not, where Gale is just as ordinary as anyone else, and where the slippers, whether they exist or not, are not worth the all-consuming attention. The fantasy actually lifts him up so much that he is transported away from it and he can let go.
Dorothy’s slippers take him home.