Paracosm  

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The Map of Tendre (Carte du Tendre) is a French map of an imaginary country called Tendre. It shows a geography entirely based around the theme of love.
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The Map of Tendre (Carte du Tendre) is a French map of an imaginary country called Tendre. It shows a geography entirely based around the theme of love.

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A paracosm is a detailed imaginary world, or fantasy world, involving humans and/or animals, or perhaps even fantasy or alien creations. Commonly having its own geography, history, and language, it is an experience that is often developed during childhood and continues over a long period of time: months or even years.

Origin and usage

The concept was first described by a researcher for the BBC, Robert Silvey, with later research by British psychiatrist Stephen A. MacKeith, and British psychologist David Cohen. The term "paracosm" was coined by Ben Vincent, a participant in Silvey's 1976 study and a self-professed paracosmist.

Psychiatrists Delmont Morrison and Shirley Morrison mention paracosms and "paracosmic fantasy" in their book Memories of Loss and Dreams of Perfection, in the context of people who have suffered the death of a loved one or some other tragedy in childhood. For such people, paracosms function as a way of processing and understanding their early loss. They cite James M. Barrie, Isak Dinesen and Emily Bronte as examples of people who created paracosms after the deaths of family members. Literary historian Joetta Harty connects paracosm play with imperialism in her writings on the Brontes, Thomas De Quincey and Hartley Coleridge. Dorothy and Jerome Singer reference paracosms in their studies on childhood imagination.

Marjorie Taylor is another child development psychologist who explores paracosms as part of a study on imaginary friends. In Adam Gopnik's essay, "Bumping Into Mr. Ravioli", he consults his sister, a child psychologist, about his three-year-old daughter's imaginary friend. He is introduced to Taylor's ideas and told that children invent paracosms as a way of orienting themselves in reality.

Paracosms are also mentioned in articles about types of childhood creativity and problem-solving. Some scholars believe paracosm play indicates high intelligence. A Michigan State University study revealed that many MacArthur Fellows Program recipients had paracosms as children. Paracosm play is recognized as one of the indicators of a high level of creativity, which educators now realize is as important as intelligence. In an article in the International Handbook on Giftedness, Michelle Root-Bernstein writes about paracosm play as an indicator of high levels of intelligence and creativity, which may "supplement objective measures of intellectual giftedness ... as well as subjective measures of superior technical talent."

Examples

Examples of paracosms include:

  • Middle Earth, the highly-detailed fantasy world created by J.R.R. Tolkien, as expressed in his novels Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, as well as a sizable body of writings published posthumously containing fictional histories, languages and other reference material. Tolkien had been inventing languages since his teen years, only later imagining the people who spoke them or their environment.
  • Gondal, Angria, and Gaaldine, the fantasy kingdoms created and written about in childhood by Emily, Anne, and Charlotte Brontë, and their brother Branwell, and maintained well into adulthood.
  • Hartley Coleridge, created and maintained the land of Ejuxria all his life.
  • Austin Tappan Wright's Islandia began as a childhood paracosm
  • M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel
  • Borovnia, the fantasy kingdom created by Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker in their mid-teens, as portrayed in the film Heavenly Creatures.
  • Henry Darger began writing about the Realms of the Unreal in his late teens and continued to write and illustrate its epic adventures for decades.
  • Joanne Greenberg created a paracosm called Iria as a young girl, and described it to Frieda Fromm-Reichmann while hospitalized at Chestnut Lodge. Fromm-Reichmann wrote about it in an article for the American Journal of Psychiatry; Greenberg wrote about it as the Kingdom of Yr in her novel I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.
  • As children, novelist C. S. Lewis and his brother Warren together created a paracosm called "Boxen" which was in turn a combination of their respective private paracosms "Animal-Land" and "India". Lewis later drew upon Animal-Land to create the fantasy land Narnia.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Paracosm" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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