Fiction Never Dies

Life is fiction:
a series of lies
that hide the truth

There’s a war going on out there. It’s a clash of heroes as big as the ones on the silver screen. It pulls us all into its bloody depths at some point in our lives, though unfortunately for some the tour is over with school. The conflict is the incessant battle between reality and fiction.

We all know the difference between these two, but we don’t all relate to them in the same way. For example, some shun un-reality for it’s failure to meet the demands of what they consider “real life”, while others live behind the facade of fiction in order to escape what they don’t want to face. Some simply put a low priority on fiction and feel it isn’t important (oh god, not those people); meanwhile, some others enjoy fiction but have trouble fitting it into the rigorous turmoil of life.

But from my perspective, all of these can be broken down basically into two categories: those who value fiction and those who don’t. I’m the former. And I do not hesitate to classify people in this way, because I think the distinction is crucial.

Fiction is important to me, and I’ve been finding myself questioning why. I want to read stories that aren’t true, that have no foundation in the real world. Am I just fooling myself with make-believe? Am I hiding from the real world behind a facade of lies? The question, I think, is more important than the me-who-never-considered-it ever thought it could be. What I once thought were just fun stories have become something more. And I don’t think it’s a new theory.

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?

― J.R.R. Tolkien

Fiction is timeless. It’s as old as the human ability to create and relate it, and for as long as there’ve been people on this earth communicating with one another we’ve been telling each other stories. Stories of legend, stories of myth, stories of heroes and wars and beauties and valour and honour. A mighty deed done can be immortalized forever in the telling. Because stories are how we remember. Whether it’s the lie we tell ourselves to make us feel better, or the tale of courage we share to give our friends hope, fiction is a binding force that has power over the human mind. A story can turn a farmer into a hero, or a king into a beggar.

Stories last forever. We do not. Perhaps it’s the only way we as humans can overcome the plague of death. 

It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.

― Mark Twain

First of all, the agelessness of stories aught to tell the most truth about the nature of fiction. Why have we been telling stories so long if they don’t hold some inherent value for the human soul? Of course it could be argued, however vainly, that stories likely began as retellings of true events, and fiction is nothing more than a deviant to the truth. Sure, maybe a thousand years ago a brave warrior cuts down a dragon with his sword, and everyone the country over is talking about it. A millennia later we have a fantastic story of a knight in glittering mail who wields a fire-branded weapon and cuts off the three heads of a terrible, fire-breathing dragon. The story is embellished, but the roots are true. Isn’t that what’s important?

No, I would argue it’s the hero’s deeds which made the story tellable that are important. This is what inspires stories: it’s the reason behind them. And the same reasons stand behind the enigmatic curtain of fiction. A story-teller never tells a story without a purpose.

Artists use lies to tell the truth. Yes, I created a lie. But because you believed it, you found something true about yourself.

― Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

Secondly, we are a people born to a world of indolence which we created for ourselves. We sort of enjoy being lazy. We enjoy being safe. Even if we face the challenges life throws at us bravely, we still have little trouble gloating in the luxury we’ve built for ourselves by these hurtles. Thousands of years of survival have taught us to take the path of least resistance, and we’ve become quite good at it. As weird as it is to say, it’s a survival instinct – or a product of it, anyway: as in, we are this way because we have survived. Now we sit back and tell tales around the fire of what we’ve accomplished. And because we are human, the deeds in the stories must be more grand than they are in real life. We revel in the accomplishments we’ve made.

And so King Arthur drew the sword from the stone, and Saint George slew the dragon, and Beowulf tore off Grendel’s arm, Robin Hood stole King John’s gold, Atlantis slipped beneath the waves, and adventurers the world over have hunted for Eldorado, the Holy Grail, and the Fountain of Youth. Because we deserve to take a break and feel good about where we came from. We are human, and we can be proud of that.

Fiction is lies; we’re writing about people who never existed and events that never happened when we write fiction, whether its science fiction or fantasy or western mystery stories or so-called literary stories. All those things are essentially untrue. But it has to have a truth at the core of it.

― George R. R. Martin

But there’s another point I want to make, and it’s this: denying fiction its power over our understanding of reality endangers us to forget the horrible and beautiful truths we don’t want to face. The world we live in can be an ugly place, and we don’t want to admit just how ugly it gets. Sometimes we lose ourselves in the monotony of life and need a reminder there’s more outside our walls. Sometimes we forget about the little things. Read a story; consider the backdrop; compare your reality. Fiction tells invisible truths.

But what if we shut that off? What if we confine ourselves to whatever subculture we live in and choose to ignore everything beyond our walls? The results of such a folly are dismal and many times has been the subject of fiction stories. It’s a tale of woe and horror that holds the power to either frighten or alarm. If we let it frighten us, we’re likely to make a dissimilar mistake; if we let it alarm us, we can process the reasons and the results and choose a better course. We need to think about the things we read.

So this is what it comes down to. Fiction is a medium for sharing ideas. Fiction is a place of understanding. It can be a foul but palatable meal. It can be an escape from a regrettable reality. It can be a celebration of the accomplishments we’ve made. Or it can be the only salvation for a mind that can’t make sense of the hell it’s fallen into. Fiction is freedom, and it never dies.

In the words of one of the greatest fiction writers of all time,

Fiction is the truth inside the lie.

― Stephen King