My seven-year-old gave me the ‘eye roll’ this morning…
“Do you want to go watch the play Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?” I asked the kids as we walked to school this morning.
“What’s it about?” asked C2.
“Hmm, from what I remember, the movie was about these two kids whose dad is an inventor and their adventures in a flying car called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” I explained.
“Everybody knows cars can’t fly,”stated C1, rolling her eyes.
In a desperate attempt to nip the eye rolling in the bud, I stated, “They can – in your imagination. But to do this, there has to be a willing suspension of disbelief.”
Quizzical looks followed. So I offered them this explanation.
“Remember how we read The Tiger Who Came to Tea last night?” They nodded happily; this old classic by Judith Kerr has been thumbed through a million times at our place.
It’s a delightful tale of a talking tiger(!) who rocks up to this little girl Sophie’s house and invites himself to afternoon tea. He proceeds to eat them out of house and home – but is not in the least bit tempted to take a bite out of Sophie or her mummy. Guess that would be impolite…
My kids love the book precisely due to a willing suspension of disbelief. They just don’t know they are doing it.
“Imagine a walking-talking tiger knocking on your door…” I start.
“Imagine him eating all the biscuits and cakes and buns!” adds C1.
“Imagine him drinking every drop of water in your taps!” exclaims C2.
“Now, do you think this could actually happen in real life?” I ask the kids.
“Nah! It’s a story. All make believe,” C2 says.
“It’s the author’s imagination,” affirms C1.
“That’s right. You know that it can’t possibly be true, but you’re willing to let go of this fact so that you can enjoy the story. That’s what’s called a suspension of disbelief,” I explain.
A willing suspension of disbelief – it’s not a new phrase like ‘on fleek’ (something that looks good or is perfect) or ‘hangry’ (a portmanteau of hungry and angry).
In fact, you’ve been doing it since you were a little child. All those fairy tales you read, all those make-believe games you conjured up to while away the afternoon, all those Star Trek episodes you watched…
All it took was a little imagination. And a leap of faith.
But, in the case of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the man who coined the phrase, it’s quite possible it has a little something to do with what he smoked in his pipe… (Psst! It was opium.)
Way back in 1817 – yes, almost 200 years ago – Coleridge mentioned the phrase ‘suspension of disbelief’ in his book Biographia Literaria.
“In this idea originated the plan of the ‘Lyrical Ballads’; in which it was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.”
Or, in English-speak, it’s when you know something cannot possibly happen, but you’re willing to withhold your scepticism and doubt because what you’re seeing or reading is so entertaining, you want to believe it (if only momentarily). So you press pause on your WTF button and believe the unbelievable.
Take this Kim Kardashian pic, for instance. A suspension of disbelief? You can bet your bottom dollar. Or should I say, Kimmy K’s bottom?
Is there a particular genre of fiction or movies you like because it makes you indulge in a suspension of disbelief? Were you a day-dreamer?