The word “escapism”, defined as "the avoidance of reality by absorption of the mind in entertainment or in an imaginative situation, activity, etc. ," first appeared in common usage, somewhat unsurprisingly, during the Great Depression. Since then, entire industries have sprung up to enable people to remove themselves from the rigors of daily life. The word “escapism” often carries a negative connotation - suggestive of people who are unhappy and unable or unwilling to connect with others or take meaningful action to change their lives or the world around them. However, some artists have challenged the idea that escapism is fundamentally and exclusively negative. C. S. Lewis was fond of humorously remarking that the usual enemies of escape were jailers and a mind imprisoned by reality could refresh its imaginative powers through escape. Similarly J. R. R. Tolkien argued for escapism in fantasy literature as the creative expression of reality within a secondary (imaginative) world. Neil Gaiman responded to a similar question about the value of "escapist" literature:
"[It] can actually be a real escape from places where you feel bad, and from bad places. It can be a safe place you go, like going on holiday, and it can be somewhere that, while you've escaped, actually teaches you things you need to know when you go back, that gives you knowledge and armour and tools to change the bad place you were in."
For some time before 1941 Coward had been thinking of a comedy about ghosts. After his London office and flat was destroyed in the Blitz, Coward wanted to distract the public from the horrors of World War II. Despite air raid sirens screaming outside during performances, Blithe Spirit never once mentions the war and managed to keep audiences laughing (literally) as bombs were falling.