“Fabrication, Fantasy, Fiction: How you need Fictional stories”
Fictional stories are everywhere. They are in our books, TV shows, and movies. We teach our children fictional stories in fables and fairy tales. We fill out movie theaters with explosive, multi-million dollar stories. We love them. They allow us to express things that factual tales would not let us. Fiction can be made to tell an epic hero’s journey, or of an unlikely pair falling in love. Fables teach morals and values. Other stories can be social or religious commentaries. We need fiction. It allows us to experience other worlds and affects how we interact in ours. Fiction teaches how we interact with others and is the gateway to knowledge.
“Face facts: we need fiction” Neil Gaiman. The Guardian. 10.24.13.
Written in October of 2013, Neil Gaiman states that we need fiction books. “Fiction is a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it’s hard because someone’s in trouble and you have to know how it’s all going to end …”. Gaiman says that children reading is essential, and how if they’re reading what some would call the “wrong genre”, then so what. Reading and literacy are a ladder, and you have to start somewhere. Why not fiction? There are no bad children’s authors because children don’t care about what author is better than another, or what ideas have already been used. They merely enjoy the story, without analyzing and criticizing everything to death. Fiction also builds empathy. “Fiction is something you build up with 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world…”. If children, or anyone for that matter, can express a feeling towards a fictional character then they will (or should) be able to express them towards real people. Companies looking to build prisons look use algorithms to see how large of an inmate population they will have. They take the percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds who cannot read and plug this information into programs to see how many future criminals there will be. While a completely literate population wouldn’t be without crime, there “are very real correlations” between the two.
But, why are we so fascinated with some specific fictional tales?
“What the Hell” Joan Acocella. The New Yorker. 5.27.13.
Joan Acocella wrote this piece in May of 2013. The reason for her writing it was the upcoming release of Dan Brown’s Inferno.
The article is largely about Dan Brown’s new (at the time the piece was written) novel Inferno. But, the beginning of the article referrers to The Divine Comedy (TDC) itself and why it has been so popular, and why it has peaked interests for 700 years. The article begins by pointing out there is no real reason as to why we can’t seem to let The “Divine Comedy” go. It was written in Medieval Italian, and based on the teachings of the time. Neither of which are relevant to today. But still; “The Divine Comedy is more than a text that professors feel has to be brushed up periodically for students. It’s one of the reasons there are professors and students”. This shows how society today is in love with fictional stories. Fiction allows us to create different worlds and express our imaginations in ways not normally possible. TDC takes Christianity, a commonly known concept, and adds in a little mythology. Mixing the Seven Deadly Sins with mythological gods and creatures allows us to mix more orthodox topics with unorthodox ones. The article goes on to describe how Inferno takes TDC and other historical things, such as the plague, and weaves them into our modern world.
“Hell and Back” Tim Parks. The New Yorker. 01.15.01.
Tim Parks wrote this piece for The New Yorker in 2001 in response to a new translation of TDC coming out. He starts the article out with talking about a wolf, lion, and leopard blocking Dante’s path. The three beasts can be considered to be Dante’s Florentine enemies. He was kicked out of his native Florence by an opposing political group and The Divine Comedy frequently shows characters allegorical to people in the author’s life. Here, the “beasts” are about to maul the narrator for simple walking along a path. Dante would have felt the same way in real life, attacked for his political beliefs and being on the losing side. Later on, the narrator meets a heavenly woman that leads him through Purgatory and Paradise. The guide is meant to represent his real life love interest of Beatrice, the woman whom he idolized. The whole story can be reduced to a series of allegories. Some argue that doing this, however, reduces the literary merit of TDC. The same people argue that the story was meant to be read and enjoyed, not picked apart to no end. Either way, allegories allow us to take fiction, already enjoyable, and add deeper meanings. The use of metaphorical deeper meaning creates a way for us to delve into more extensive ways to be entertained. Dante used allegories to villainize his enemies and idolize lose he adored. The allegorical structure makes for a work of fiction that is more than one story meant to be skimmed over. Now, with this form, The Divine Comedy still inspires people to read and study it.
While Dante could see his everyday world in The Divine Comedy, sometimes we too can see everyday things in our works of fiction.
“The Westeros Wing” Emily Nussbaum. The New Yorker. 7.4.16
Emily Nussbaum wrote this article in response to the season six finale of Game of Thrones. Another source of inspiration for the article is the upcoming presidential election. Nussbaum begins the article by introducing a few characters on the show, as well as revealing just a little bit of plot (without spoilers). The piece largely compares certain main players in the Game to the real-life power struggle; the 2016 presidential election. Hillary Clinton is compared to two people, the young Queen Daenerys, and the evil Queen Cersei. Depending on the reader’s opinion of Clinton, she could be either Queen. If Clinton is viewed in a positive light, she could be Dany, a humble hero working for what is right and projecting those who can’t protect themselves. If Clinton is put in a not so positive light, she could be the conniving Cersei. She could be rotten to the core, and looking out for no one but herself and those she deems worthy (her significant other and her children, mostly). There is also a Bernie Sanders character. A little old man fighting for the common folk and who despises the upper class (he even has the hair to match). The article shows one reason Game of Thrones, or any fictional story for that matter, is popular. We find bits and pieces of our lives in the story line. When little snippets of what we are experiencing, or what we deem important, show up in a script or novel, we relate to it. And anything we relate to has a better chance of becoming a hit.
Not all fiction revolves around adults, kids enjoy it too.
“What makes a children’s book good?” Adam Gidwitz 10.3.16.
The article begins talking about Goosebumps and its record-setting sales. With over 350 million copies sold, it is the third bestselling series of all time (according to Wikipedia at least). The author of this article poses the titular question what makes a children’s story good? One as financially successful as Goosebumps should be considered good…right?
There seem to be two overarching schools of thought on this topic; content-oriented and results-oriented. The first focuses on content. Does the book prove a wholesome moral point? Does the child reader grow to be a more mature person while reading it? The second can be summed up in one word…MONEY. The author pokes fun at adults in both of these categories for being grown people, sitting in their book clubs discussing children’s stories. He mentions an author’s Newberry acceptance speech. When the author was a librarian, a child asked for a “good book” recommendation. She responds with “well what do you consider a good book?”. The kid, irritated with the question, responds simply with “about medium-long with poisonous snakes”. Adult men and women can sit around and talk about the different literary merits of children’s books, but the true judges are the children themselves. Later on in the article, an essay on writing for children by C.S. Lewis is mentioned. In it, Lewis states that “a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story”. One group of people (children or adults) or one value of literary merit (results or moral lesson) is not enough to determine what stories are “good”. The only way to measure which ones are great is to see which “[falls] in the center of a Venn diagram”.
While many books are successes (in either sense of the term), not every story ends well.
“On Bad Endings” Joan Acocella. The New Yorker. 11.27.12.
Joan Acocella wrote this piece in November of 2012. She writes on how some of the world’s most well-known books have terrible endings. She mentions War and Peace, David Copperfield, and Huck Finn (I have not actually read these…) as some examples. She mentions that Copperfield leaves you laughing, crying, and gasping in the first half of the novel. The second half is how he boringly marries well, and “succeeds in life”. The first half of Wuthering Heights is full of “scalding passion” while the second documents uninteresting children. Acocella posts a few theories as to why some great novels end so poorly. One is that authors lose their courage when writing their books. She mentions Huck Finn here. Twain pushed some boundaries by writing about freeing a man from slavery, but there is one point where he lapses. At one point the runaway slave Jim is recaptured and Huck and Tom Sawyer poke fun at Jim while he is held prisoner. Leo Marx actually commented on this by saying Twain had a “failure of nerve” when questioning equal rights. Another theory is that every ending is a letdown. Every novel needs a buildup of a plot in order for it to be read; a boring book will usually not be finished. Sometimes the main story line is build up so well that no ending can wind it down while still doing it justice. Her final theory is that sometimes authors just get tired of writing. They simply lose steam and are just not able to pull through.
Adult books, kid’s books, books with good endings or bad are all interesting, but what about movies?
“What it takes to make a great movie” Richard Brody. The New Yorker. 9.20.12.
Francis Coppola is the writer, director, and producer of the 1979 film Apocalypse Now. Richard Brody wrote this article after he watched an interview with Coppola right after the film was released. A quote from the interview stuck out at me. Coppola says “movies have to have quality and integrity because they have such a tremendous influence on the world and on people”.
Movies, especially large blockbuster films like Apocalypse Now are seen by millions of people around the world. Many of the world’s top-grossing films, such as Avatar, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Star Wars, are fictional stories. Films such as these are seen by millions, if not billions, of people. With such a large viewing audience, their stories are well known. Their fictional stories to be exact. With this worldwide fame, movies need to have messages that mean something, not just explosions and love stories. Star Wars says that even the worst of people can be redeemed. Avatar has a protect the environment at all costs theme.
When referring to the cost of big blockbuster films, Coppola thought directors shouldn’t worry about cost. He says that directors should be willing to pay to make films as great as possible. Coppola put all his money into Apocalypse Now, and in case the movie flopped, George Lucas offered to buy Coppola’s house and let him live in it while he paid it back. He realized the importance of making a film of a higher quality. He realized the power a fictional story can have.
“Empathy by the book: How Fiction affects behavior” Susan Pinker. Wall Street Journal. 11.11.16.
Picking up a book may be more than just a way to spend your time. Susan Pinker writes this article to mention that reading stories may make the reader more empathetic towards people in the real world. She mentions a study completed by the University of Toronto that suggests the mental capacity needed to put yourself in the shoes of a fictional character may indicate greater empathy towards real people. If we can be sad for a fictional dog, or happy for a superhero, why not actual, living people? We are taught with stories from a very young age. We learn to take our time with a slow turtle and an energetic bunny. We see that cartoon villains end up in trouble when they try to step on others to get what they want, (a throne, world domination, or anything really). Just look at Scar from Lion King or Hades from Hercules. Both try to ruin their siblings (or kill them…) to get a crown. Both end up out of power and out of the story. Here, Disney teaches kids to not usurp others and to not undercut people.
The study also found that the nonfiction, horror, sci-fi, and romance genres did not increase empathy in the readers. It is believed that this is because the intentions of the characters in these genres are more obvious. Other works of fiction cause the reader to guess and try to interpret the character’s intentions.
Fiction is a part of our everyday lives. It’s a part of who we are. Some of the first stories we are read as children are fiction. Kids’ books are largely fictional works, just look at Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. We are taught morals and values using fairy tales and fables. But fiction doesn’t stop being a part of us as children, even adults read it. Did anyone read the latest Stephen King novel? What about James Patterson? Or maybe you’re the more intellectual type; maybe you study classical literature. The Divine Comedy and Romeo and Juliet are two commonly studied works of fictional literature. Fiction teaches us how to walk in another person’s shoes. Fiction extends into more than just literature. Game of Thrones, The Hobbit, and Gone with the Wind are cinematic examples of fictional works. Fiction also leads to higher literacy rates. Kids are more likely to read about a demigod or a wizard over a presidential biography, so why not let them? If people are reading who cares what genre it is? Just let them dive into the worlds created out of ink and paper. Let them enjoy fiction.