Sometimes my friends tell me they can’t see the point of fiction. I understand. Like, freaking out obsessing over made-up stories. Feeling like a piece of your heart has been forever crushed when a pet character dies. Getting ticked off when someone disses your favorite author. Sometimes it gets a little odd, to say the least.
But while I’d say fiction in general is a cause worthy of a massive vindication put forth by minds far greater than mine, at least I can offer a few words in its defense. (Maybe in many years when I grow up I’ll write a dissertation a little more suited to the topic.)
As Sir Francis Bacon said, “Truth is so hard to tell, it sometimes needs fiction to make it plausible.” Good fiction functions as both a window offering a view of the world and a mirror showing us (sometimes unnerving) images of ourselves. In other words, it shows us truth more clearly than we could otherwise see. Case in point. I hate that in Narnia-speak, I’m a Susan. Easily distracted by superficiality, quickly intoxicated with cheap pleasures, all too eager to turn from childlike faith and truth. I’d love to say I’m a Lucy or even an Edmund (traitor turned hero—love the character arc), but I’m not. I’m a Susan trying to be a Lucy, and that’s a scary thing. But it’s also the truth, and it’s something I wouldn’t know as clearly about myself, and therefore wouldn’t have had as fair a shot at changing, if I hadn’t gotten to know a fictional talking lion. That’s the mirror-side of fiction. If this were a balanced paper, I’d also include an example of the window-side of fiction. But this isn’t a paper. It’s a blog post, and I’m running out of room. Anyway, back to the point of fiction showing truth—“After all,” J.R.R. Tolkien said, “I believe that legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth,’ and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode; and long ago certain truths and modes of this kind were discovered and must always reappear.”
In further defense of fiction, imagination (fiction’s brainchild, even while fiction itself is also the brainchild of imagination) is arguably the life force of the world. Albert Einstein said, “Knowledge isn’t important; imagination is.” If the genius who developed the theory of relativity can bank everything on imagination over knowledge without shame, so can I. Even Napoleon Bonaparte—not exactly a name that comes quickly to mind at the mention of imagination—said, “Imagination rules the world.” What fosters imagination? Fiction. And then imagination goes on to foster more fiction, and then fiction fosters more imagination, and then you’ve got this whole messy chicken-egg situation and it’s not really clear which came first. But you can’t have one without the other.
Finally, fiction is walking in the footsteps of the greatest Storyteller, an attempt at thinking his thoughts after him. In fact, storytelling—the act of creating, loving, believing in, mourning over worlds—is mimicking at its finest. We are living, I believe, what Tolkien called “the greatest Fairy Story,” and the stories we write and read and watch and love are all echoes of the truth. I can’t say it as beautifully as Tolkien did:
We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.
So when Katniss volunteers herself in Prim’s place, I’ll let myself cry because I see more clearly my relationship with my own little sister, and what I want it to be. I see sacrifice at its grittiest, love in the darkest place. When Bilbo mans up and plunges into his worst nightmare—an adventure—I’ll let myself take heart because though I’m not nearly as brave as I’d like to think, in this I see that I can be courageous too. There’s hope for hobbits-in-disguise like me; maybe I can dare to hope that I might save someone’s life. When Jane stands up to Rochester, I’ll let myself be inspired because I see a reflection of the woman I wish I were and want to be.
And when Percy Jackson uncaps Riptide, I’ll uncap my own “lethal ballpoint pen,” which in my case most often equals rattling words into a word processor. I’ll do my best to stand, albeit shakily, on the shoulders of giants and reach as high as I can for the stars. And by that, I mean I’ll write my own fictions too. But that’s getting into a whole different topic, and this post is already too long.
So yeah. Stories, books, heroes, villains, fandoms, coffee and stuff. Fiction.