Sunday, January 22, 2017

Why Fiction Matters

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"By words the mind is winged."

-Aristophanes


Why do we love books so much? Why do we spend hundreds of dollars buying them and thousands of hours reading them? Why do we fill our bookshelves? Why do we browse libraries and bookstores, why do we create book blogs and write reviews and form communities centered around our favorite genres?

It's because of story.

And it's because story reaches in and speaks right to the heart.

Stories are an escape. They are journeys and adventures. They are safe places to think and feel and question, places where we dare to risk it all in a hypothetical situation, to see how it plays out. They prepare us for the real places that ask us to risk, to fight, to love. Once we've practiced in fiction, we're a bit more ready to choose the heroic path in life.

Dry information is not remembered. Yet information attached to strong emotion stays with us for years. You may not even remember the plot of a book you read five years ago--not the names of the characters or the twist at the end--but somewhere in your mind, the feelings and concepts are there.

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The hero who laid his life on the line for the helpless.

The antihero who struggled uphill and found redemption.

The villain who spiraled ever deeper into darkness.

The girl who found true love.

The orphan who found a family.

The emotions behind those virtues and vices, victories and defeats, stick with us. In those universal emotions of loss, joy, love, conflict, frustration, and triumph, pieces of ourselves are brought to light. Me too is perhaps the strongest element in any story--that realization that we're not the only ones who've been there. Because if a character feels like I do, that means there are countless others in this world who have trudged the same valleys and climbed the same mountains. I am not alone.

It's in stories that we often learn what life is, and what it should be. Even when a novel makes no attempt to teach an overt message, we are learning. We are vicariously experiencing another world and another life through the characters.

That's why stories mean so much to me. In them I've lived hundreds of lives. I've been a victorious hero. I've succumbed to a fatal flaw. I've offered mercy and received mercy. I have lived, I have died. I have seen the world through many eyes, felt pain and joy so like my own in many hearts.

I've found more than just companionship in stories. I've also seen glimpses of God, in the spaces between the lines where imagination intersects with the holy. It astounds me that He would use stories humbly imprinted on paper to speak to us. Of course, the Bible is where I find Him the most--as it should be. But I cannot discount the ways fiction has shed a different light on things I'd grown too familiar to see in Scripture.

Ted Dekker's Black drowned me in God's love.

Bryan Davis's Eye of the Oracle let me dance with Elohim.

Anne Elisabeth Stengl's Starflower pierced through my judgmental nature and showed me grace.

C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe put me in awe of my Savior's sacrifice.

Andrew Klavan's If We Survive reminded me of the beauty and fragility of life.

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Return of the King showed me courage in the face of impossible odds.

Jeffrey Overstreet's The Ale Boy's Feast helped me lean on God's provision.

Even a children's book like Max Lucado's With You All the Way helped me listen for my Father's song when I cannot see Him.

I could go on and on. Secular books, too, have helped to instill bravery and friendship in me. The point is, I don't know where I would be without stories.

Some may criticize fiction as being unnecessary. An escape for those too cowardly to deal with their problems head-on. On the contrary, fiction has helped me face my problems. Between the covers of books, I have discovered courage to combat fear, love to fuel my steps, and the reassurance that the happiest ending of all is yet to come.

What books have impacted you?

24 comments :

  1. "Some may criticize fiction as being unnecessary. An escape for those too cowardly to deal with their problems head-on. On the contrary, fiction has helped me face my problems. Between the covers of books, I have discovered courage to combat fear, love to fuel my steps, and the reassurance that the happiest ending of all is yet to come." << THAT. THAT IS AWESOME. THIS WHOLE POST IS AWESOME.

    I've yet to read The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe, but the movie has definitely helped me recognize God's sacrifice for us! Heartless by Anne Elisabeth Stengl helped me to realize my own immaturities and need to be kinder; Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt taught me that we all must leave this life, at some point; The Ilyon Chronicles by Jaye L. Knight has been a timely lesson of God's love, mercy, and forgiveness; The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan is a constant reminder of how every one of us, as individuals, is special in our own way. Fiction does matter. <3

    ~Liv
    oliviakfisher.blogspot.com

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    1. WELL, SO ARE YOU. And thank you! ^_^

      Oh, Liv, TLTWATW is such a good book!!! The Chronicles of Narnia is a beautiful series; highly recommend. But I also love the movies! Heartless is wonderful, and the Rangers Apprentice series was so fun! All the lovely books... <3 I haven't yet read the others you mentioned, but those are all important things learned. Aren't books amazing?

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  2. Yes, yes, yes! This annoys me about a lot of Christian circles, saying that fiction is just an escape (thus cowardly), or lies (thus wrong). I've got some friends who are very slowly coming out of this idea, and I find I'm getting quite passionate about it. Your post says it so well.
    "Between the covers of books, I have discovered courage to combat fear, love to fuel my steps, and the reassurance that the happiest ending of all is yet to come." This especially. Books have influenced me at least as much as people have (for most of my short life, I had maybe one or two friends outside of books), and fiction was definitely in the majority.
    Stories appeal to our hearts, without necessarily taking the time to go through our heads, so instead of preaching, they show us what's good and why to avoid what's bad, and often the more subtly, the better they do their jobs. (Though I am not saying that the main purpose of stories is to teach a lesson. . .)

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    1. Oh, me too! Whenever someone says something along the lines of, "I only read nonfiction, because fiction isn't useful," I inwardly cringe. My literature-apologist side is strong. XD

      Books have been companions for me as well. There are some characters you grow up alongside, and they mean something special to you.

      "Stories appeal to our hearts, without necessarily taking the time to go through our heads..." I love how you put that! Concepts stick so much better when our hearts grasp them. (I agree, I don't think lessons are the main purpose of stories either, although if a writer focuses on telling a good story, good lessons will probably arise on their own. Those are the best kind.)

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  3. This is a beautiful post! Fiction has so much impact.

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

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    1. Thank you, Tori! I definitely agree. :)

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  4. This. Post.

    I love the essence of what you have captured here in these few lines. Everything you wrote I could jump up and down next to and shout, "YES! EXACTLY that!"

    Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time" showed me the power of love, Weis/Hickman's "The Death Gate Cycle" showed me the danger of predisposed notions and arrogance, and also redemption, and that nobody is too far gone to make the right decision, Card's "Ender's Game" and "Ender's Shadow" taught me that brilliance can come out of the very small, and so very much about the difference between good leadership and bad. Wilson Rawls' "Where the Red Fern Grows" taught me about sacrifice and love and loyalty. Gwen Walker's "He Whistles for the Cricket" showed me that a simple life and a kind spirit can have an enormous radius of effect, even though it may not seem like much at the time. Oddly enough, Jim Butcher's "Dresden Files" have shown me examples of what true Christianity should look like, and how it can impact even those who do not share my faith. "Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe" taught me that redemption is available even to the worst of traitors. "Fellowship of the Ring" taught me that size doesn't matter if your heart is courageous, that old bitternesses can be laid aside for a greater cause, that even the mightiest can suffer temptation, and that even the strongest temptation can be overcome and atoned for. And those are just a fraction of the stories I've read and the lessons they've taught me.

    Fiction is not just an escape. It is a place where we go to shore up ourselves, to be reminded that "There is good in this world, and it's worth fighting for." It's where we find the courage to continue that fight.

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

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    1. OH, YOU. *hugs*

      That's a great list! "A Wrinkle in Time" is on my TBR! Somewhere in that terrifying stack, anyway... ;) I watched the "Ender's Game" movie and enjoyed it, so I should probably read the books one of these days too, especially if you enjoyed them.
      I love love LOVE all the things you said you learned from "The Fellowship of the Ring!" Beautifully put. <3

      "There is good in this world, and it's worth fighting for." Amen to that! Thank you for the lovely comment, Jenelle.

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  5. I just want to show this post to anyone who says fiction is unimportant! As I was reading, I found myself agreeing whole-heartedly with every sentence. Thank you for this post! :)

    ~Lizzy

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    1. Hi there, Lizzy! Aww, thanks. ^_^ Feel free to do that--I wish more people understood the power of stories!

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  6. Oh, this is beautiful--so eloquent and so true!

    Some books that have impacted me? Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," with its characters struggling against sin and the ultimate triumph of grace. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings," with its simple ordinary folk risking everything for goodness and beauty. "The Song of Roland," with its hero coming to realize his own helplessness.

    Thank you for this beautiful post!

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    1. Thank you, Lucy! I've yet to read anything by Hawthorne, though I suppose he'd be somewhere on my vague list of "Classics I Had Better Get to During My Lifetime." ;) Ah yes, LOTR has taught me a good many things as well. Thanks for sharing some of your impactful reads!

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  7. This is so wonderful, Tracey. Just, everything about it. So. much. truth.

    Thankfully, I was raised in a home where reading fiction was encouraged. It will never be an unnecessary thing for me. I will forever live and breathe it. I particularly like the Tales of Goldstone Wood. So far, the series has inspired me and touched me in all aspects of my life. I really loved Starflower too. :)

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    1. Thanks, Madeline! Stories are very dear to my heart. :)

      I'm so grateful I grew up in a home full of fiction too! It saddens me that not every child can say the same. TALES OF GOLDSTONE WOOD. Oh my heart, yes. Yes yes yes. That whole series (what's published so far, anyway) has made a big impact on me. <3

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  8. THIS. POST. <33333333

    Can I just keep it in my pocket forever and ever? BECAUSE THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER. I was screaming "Yessss!" inside my head every few seconds while reading this. I...I don't even know what to SAY. You've said it all! I just want to quote every single line. I have to quote SOME anyway.

    "Dry information is not remembered. Yet information attached to strong emotion stays with us for years." Absolutely 100% YES. There are so, so many books that I hardly remember the plots or little details of. But I remember the FEEL. I remember certain scenes that have stuck with me for years, and always will. Those little scenes and truths that help carry me through so many hard times in life.

    "Me too is perhaps the strongest element in any story--that realization that we're not the only ones who've been there." I LOVE how you worded that--that moment of "Me too!" Where everything you've felt is put into words, validates something you feel but perhaps never knew how to explain. And when we see a character experiencing something we're feeling, we can see how they triumph through it, and learn the best way to go about it.

    "On the contrary, fiction has helped me face my problems." EXACTLY. That's precisely what I'm trying to get at. You worded it so powerfully and concisely. If I wasn't a reader, I'd be a completely different person, and not a better one. I'd be so oblivious, so lost. Fiction has helped me understand life, God, truths, people. I've heard that readers tend to be better with people than non-readers, and I believe it. We're spending SO much time with SO many different personalities, of course we'd pick up some people skills along the way.

    Stories--the good, strong, powerful, emotional stories--are never, ever unnecessary. They're pathways of growth and knowledge. Not an escape from this world, but a way to bring out the truths of this world to a better understanding. Jesus Himself used parables because He knew the power of stories. Without stories, we'd be so lost!

    ANYWAYS. If you can't tell, I utterly adored this post and could flail over it until the end of time. You worded it all so perfectly! If I ever come across a naysayer of fiction I'm pointing them to this post!

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    1. YOU ARE THE BEST THING EVER. And feel free to keep it in a pocket if you wish. (Is it terrible that I'm thinking of Gollum screeching, "What has it got in its pocketses?!" XD)

      I'm always fascinated by how I recall the strangest bits of long-ago stories! I've long forgotten the storyline and the title, but there are impressions or scenes or emotions that I remember, just like you said. And some of those ARE a comfort in hard times.

      Yes, everything you just said!!! (I find some songs are like that too. Or maybe it's just art in general... Those moments where someone else expresses exactly what I've been feeling.)

      "...And not a better one." <---SO TRUE. Without stories, I'd be... well. I don't even know what I'd be, but it's not an improvement, that's for sure.
      It's funny you'd mention the people skills that fiction brings, because that's exactly what my teacher was talking about this morning! He said that nonfiction is about process, and fiction is about people, and that readers of fiction often pick up people skills from seeing so many points of view. :D

      Ah, girl, you say it so well. I love how you pointed out Jesus's use of parables--He obviously recognized that stories are the best way to a person's heart.

      Thank you so much, Christine! You always make me smile. ^___^

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  9. It's amazing how there is something in art that touches the soul, the heart, the mind.(sometimes for the better, but sometimes for the worse)

    I think the great thing about fiction is that it doesn't make a new truth. It just shows truth in a new light, makes us take real notice of it. And you get to have fun while your'e at it.

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    1. So, so true. Including the part about it having the potential to have a positive or negative affect. That's why it's so crucial for artists to be watchful of their creations!

      I just love how stories can shed light in so many different ways, at different angles, to show us a side to something we hadn't seen before. And yes, it's great fun! Thanks for the comment, Blue. :)

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  10. This entry is wonderful. I half think I ought to print it out and put it above my desk. What you say--those are the reasons I write, why most of my friends, if asked, would say they write.

    These are the reasons humans have had stories from the beginning of their history. Because yes, we can and should strive to remember history, but when we forget, stories help fill the gap in memories.

    Wasn't it a story that made an archaeologist decide to dig until he found the walls of Troy? It is the story at the heart of every great novel, poem or film that we remember, and some of the art and music we love best is the sort that helps us imagine a story in our mind.

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    1. Thank you, Nefertankh! ^_^ (And sorry for my atrociously late reply to your comment. It's been a busy week.) Print it out? Oh goodness, I'm honored you'd want to do that! <333

      Exactly. And history is really "His Story" (as cheesy as that is, it's true).

      Interesting how you noted how stories become legends that lead to historical discoveries. Yet another benefit! Thanks for your lovely comment!

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  11. Yes, yes, YES! This post makes me love fiction all the more. <3

    Awesome work, Tracey! :D

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    1. YESSSS, ALL THE BOOKS! <333 Thanks so much, Chloe!

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