Courtesy of my new favorite quotation, from Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night:
“[H]owever realistic the background, the novelist’s only native country is Cloud-Cuckooland, where they do but jest, poison in jest: no offense in the world.”
The comment is made in the context of apologizing for having arranged various bits of the historical record to suit the author’s fancy, but Sayers conveys a much deeper truth: no matter how precise an author may attempt to be, we are, in the end, purveyors of fiction. We deal in airy nothings made concrete by the application of a pen. Our works are, in essence, epistles from Cloud-Cuckooland.
Sayers borrows from Hamlet there with the whole “poison in jest” bit, but what it made me think of was A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream with its description of poets as those who “give to airy nothing/ a local habitation and a name.”
I’m quite happy to claim Cloud-Cuckooland as my local habitation.