There are times when I just can’t get my brain to stop processing at the end of the day. It’s a bit like the Energizer Bunny, it keeps going, and going, and going. At times like this, I resort for refuge to the wonderful world of make believe. There is something about becoming engrossed in a story that helps me to relax and allows my mind to cycle down so that sleep is not so hard to attain. For me, it’s more effective than counting sheep.
There is great power in story—power that is much more significant to humanity than a simple sleep aid. Though I will admit that there are times when it seems like there is nothing more important than a good night’s sleep. This significance of story is brought to light by Greg Stevenson, in his post “The Necessity of Fiction” on his blog (Caritas). Here he writes:
Yesterday I was reading a book on C. S. Lewis that was discussing his connection to G. K. Chesterton. In one of Chesterton's early writings from 1901, he discusses the role of the sort of pop culture of his day versus high literature. Chesterton makes the intriguing statement that "literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity." That thought intrigues me. Fiction, paradoxically, is a necessary force for constructing and dealing with our reality.
This is excellent, isn’t it? Fiction is a necessity! This is probably news to some of my super-studious colleagues and friends who lovingly chide me about reading so much fiction, while smugly stating, “I just don’t have time for fiction.”
The pervasive influence of fiction is underscored by Charles Bohner in his Introduction to Short Fiction. He asks:
"Do you know this song?"
Come ‘n listen to a story ‘bout a man name Jed
Poor mountaineer barely kept his family fed
An’ then one day, he was shootin’ at some food,
An’ up thru the ground came a bubblin’ crude
Oil that is! Black gold! Texas tea!
Well, the first thing you know, Jed’s a millionaire
Kin-folk said, “Jed, move away from there.”
Said, “Californy is the place y’ oughta be,”
So they loaded up the truck, and they moved to Beverly
Hills that is! Swimmin’ pools! Movie stars!
It would be frightening to know how many people in the world can sing the theme song to “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Whether they learned it in the 1960’s, when the television show originally appeared, or whether they learned it in the reruns and syndication in the decades since, millions of people, worldwide, are familiar with the basic outline of this one family’s story. The strange thing is that this family never existed.
At one time in the United States, there were families like the Clampetts who lived in the backwoods, growing up poor and unsophisticated. But Jed, Granny, Jethro, and Daisy Mae are not living, breathing people; they are characters imagined by writers, actors, and directors, and finally by us viewers. However, the fact that this family isn’t real and that they never experienced any of the events we see them experience does not change the other equally valid fact that we viewers enjoy watching them. Somehow all of us who live our lives in a very real world of jobs, taxes, families, traffic, and so on, find pleasure and even a little enlightenment in the story of these people who never lived. The pleasure we receive from their story is an example of the magic of fiction.
Of course, the compelling voice in favor of the power of story is Jesus Christ. His use of story is unparalleled. His parables encapsulate some of the most important aspects of His teaching. Though we did not walk with Him, we can almost hear Him say, “The kingdom of heaven is like…a man who sowed good seed in his field…a mustard seed, which a man planted in his field…yeast a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour…” When you think about it, the Bible is more than anything else a story book, given the fact that it is written mainly in the narrative form.
So, I enjoy fiction. I agree with Chesterton and believe it is a necessity, as well. It can help bring clarity to life, by allowing us to enter into the imagined successes and failures of others. Of course, fiction can be used to cause confusion. This is where readers must exercise caution. While fiction writers attempt to convince their readers to suspend disbelief, this does not mean that we, as consumers of their prose, suspend our good sense. As readers, we must remember that we are not buying into a worldview; we’re just reading a story!
Mitch Albom’s little book “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” is a good case study. I’m not buying his premise in the book, but I did enjoy the read. The last paragraph, indeed the last sentence in the book, made every minute I spent with Mitch Albom worthwhile. Feast your eyes on these words:
Lines formed at Ruby Pier—just as a line formed someplace else: five people, waiting, in five chosen memories, for a little girl name Amy or Annie to grow and to love and to age and to die, and to finally have her questions answered—why she lived and what she lived for. And in that line now was a whiskered old man, with a linen cap and a crooked nose, who waited in a place called the Stardust Band Shell to share his part of the secret of heaven: that each affects the other and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories, but the stories are all one.
My favorite Christian fiction author is Francine Rivers. Her books are well-crafted; background research is thorough; the characters are credible; and the theology is refreshingly biblical. There are, of course, many others—too many to mention them. I’m wondering, though, whether any readers of this blog have favorites they would like to mention. That’s assuming that any of you endured this marathon post long enough to finally get to the end of it.
Do you have a book or author you would like to mention?