in defense of fiction

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.

I murdered my grandmother this morning.

FDR was sick to death of formalities. Life as the thirty-second President of the United States could be intense, but it could also be simply annoying. Take the endless receiving lines he had to endure at the White House. Hundreds of people, ambassadors and dignitaries from all over the world, lined up to shake his hand. Meeting the President of the United States.

And nobody ever listened to what he said.

Formalities, formalities, formalities. Of the hundreds of people waiting to meet him, the President was sure not one person actually heard the few words he spoke during each greeting. Like I said, the poor guy was sick of it.

Until, however, he came up with a genius plan. At one of White House’s formal events involving a long and tedious receiving line, President Roosevelt decided to change up his receiving approach. He’d still shake each person’s hand and smile politely, but instead of his typical hello-yes-welcome comment, he’d very courteously say each time, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.”

I can just see his face as he thought it all over.

Well, the event began. FDR started shaking hands and calmly telling the visiting ambassadors he’d murdered his grandmother that morning. And just as he’d suspected, his guests replied, “Thank you. Well done, Mr. President. God bless you, sir.”

At last, near the end of the line, the ambassador from Bolivia approached. Upon hearing the President’s comment, the ambassador leaned forward and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming to her.”

It’s just an urban legend, but it’s beautiful. And honestly FDR was a pretty spunky guy. I don’t doubt that if he thought of it, he’d have done it. (I’m sitting at my desk to write this, but I’m tempted to give him a posthumous standing ovation for the story.)

Whether it’s true or not, I opened this blog with that particular narrative because I think I see a parallel here somewhere, even though I can’t quite figure out where it is exactly. I’m launching one more blog out into the universe. Everybody’s got a blog. Is anybody listening?

Well, for what it’s worth, I murdered my grandmother this morning.

And last note, a sort of bloggish manifesto as concerns this site: basically geekism in the extreme. Writing discoveries, probably; snippets of practice fiction; perhaps book reviews; fangirl reactions to events in various parallel universes, the like.

That’s all for now. Cheers.

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No grandmothers were harmed in the making of this blog post.