#217: “Why else do we read fiction, anyway?”

Why else do we read fiction, anyway? Not to be impressed by somebody’s dazzling language—or at least I hope that’s not our reason. I think that most of us, anyway, read these stories that we know are not ‘true’ because we’re hungry for another kind of truth: The mythic truth about human nature in general, the particular truth about those life-communities that define our own identity, and the most specific truth of all: our own self-story. Fiction, because it is not about somebody who actually lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about ourself.

Ender’s Game is a story about gifted children. It is also a story about soldiers. Captain John F. Schmitt, the author of the Marine Corps’s War-fighting, the most brilliant and concise book of military strategy ever written by an American (and a proponent of the kind of thinking that was at the heart of the allied victory in the Gulf War), found Ender’s Game to be a useful enough story about the nature of leadership to use it in courses he taught at the Marine University at Quantico. Watauga College, the interdisciplinary studies program at Appalachian State University—as immilitary a community as you could ever hope to find!—uses Ender’s Game for completely different purposes—to talk about problem-solving and the self-creation of the individual. A graduate student in Toronto explored the political ideas in Ender’s Game. A writer and critic at Pepperdine has seen Ender’s Game as, in some ways, religious fiction. All these uses are valid; all these readings of the book are ‘correct’. For all these readers have placed themselves inside this story, not as spectators, but as participants, and so have looked at the world of Ender’s Game, not with my eyes only, but also with their own.

This is the essence of the transaction between storyteller and audience. The “true” story is not the one that exists in my mind; it is certainly not the written words on the bound paper that you hold in your hands. The story in my mind is nothing but a hope; the text of the story is the tool I created in order to try to make that hope a reality. The story itself, the true story, is the one that the audience members create in their minds, guided and shaped by my text, but then transformed, elucidated, expanded, edited, and clarified by their own experience, their own desires, their own hopes and fears.

More Orson Scott Card.

Just to deceive myself that I’m oh so literary. But I do believe, this is truth for all lovers of reading. 

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#217: “Why else do we read fiction, anyway?”

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