In a recent blog post Mary says:
Our hero is returning in triumph from his quest and going from success to success —
He’s going success to nerve-wracking attempt to success.
This is fundamentally correct, of course—it’s not very interesting to read about someone who is merely doing chores. When sweeping the floor (in the ordinary course of things) every stroke is an unchallenged triumph of debris-moving. Even someone who could not sweep, such as a man with no arms, would probably not find the blow-by-blow of someone sweeping spilled cheerios off of the floor attention-grabbing.
The one major exception to this, which G.K. Chesterton has noted, are very young children.
…a child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales—because they find them romantic. In fact, a baby is about the only person, I should think, to whom
a modern realistic novel could be read without boring him.
(Orthodoxy, Chapter 4: The Ethics of Efland)
The one thing I take issue with in Mary’s formulation is the “nerve-wracking” part. This is a common feature of entertainment, but it is not a necessary feature of entertainment. I know this from experience. Since having young children, I don’t like nerve-wracking challenges anymore. I want calm challenges. My children wrack my nerves from when they wake up until they are asleep. My nerves can’t really take more wracking. (I do suspect that this will change when my youngest child is old enough.)
To some degree this is a matter of sensitivity, just as one must shout in the ear of a person who is hard of hearing and speak very softly to someone who is hung over. To some degree, though, I think that the amount of entertainment which can be gotten out of low-stakes challenges calmly dealt with is underrated.
Or perhaps, now that I say that, it’s not. My favorite genre, mystery, frequently is a calm investigation without huge stakes on the line. It is full of challenges, of course; they just tickle the brain without torturing the nerves.
It’s not a big point, of course. I just want to highlight, perhaps from self-interest, that the size of the challenge is not at all the same thing as how dire the consequences of failure are, nor how close to those consequences one comes prior to solving the problems.