Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you think about it, reading fiction is kind of odd. We voluntarily suspend disbelief and allow our minds to become part of an alternate reality. For a few hours, we jump into life events in another place and time while embracing the worldview of characters who may be very different from us. It’s an escape from the present moment that is kind of like an island stopover between the lands of waking and dreaming. Even though our intellectual minds are in control of the whole process, there is a sense in which our imaginations open us to a dream world where fantasy and reality intersect.
When we close the book, we must re-focus on our own lives, but something has changed. The remnants of the novel’s events or atmosphere tend to linger on, affecting our mood and even our outlook on life. Good fiction quite often inspires a sense of unrest in our minds, as we try to come to terms with a new understanding of human existence. That’s usually a good thing, but how it affects us depends on what types of characters the author has created and what philosophy of life drives their attitudes and behaviour.
We may come away from some novels feeling just terrible. A certain dark cynicism or fear tries to creep in, pushing Godly hope into the background. Alternatively, it is wonderful if the writer has, in some subtle way, woven God threads into the fabric of the story. Even a tiny spark of redemptive love or surprising joy in the midst of despair can make the human spirit sing.
Gore Vidal once made an intriguing comment:
“Writing fiction has become a priestly business in countries that have lost their faith.”
There’s a lot of truth in that. In Canada, it seems that the majority of people consider spirituality to be a side issue.The general cultural message is, “Follow whatever god you wish, but don’t bring your faith into the public square.”