Whenever I give a tour of the library to elementary students, we always end up having a discussion about what the difference is between fiction and nonfiction. Fiction, the kids tell me, isn’t real, it isn’t true. I know this is how their teachers have explained it to them and every time I bite my tongue and debate with myself whether today is the day to tear that fallacy down. Do I really want the frustration of trying to explain to 2nd graders, and more importantly their teachers, that fiction may not be real, but is almost always true?
Alice Hoffman was quoted recently as saying, “I always feel that fiction is the truth and nonfiction is the lie.”(Writer’s Digest, Oct. 2017) Today that distinction seems more imperative than ever. We assume the world around us is reality. This life is our non-fiction. Yet, current times, reality as we know it, is more filled with lies than fiction. Our whole world is inundated with falsehoods, wishful thinking, fake news. Whereas fiction… fiction always reveals the truth. Even if it involves sorcerers and aliens, fiction always tells us the raw truth of emotions, relationships, values, and life itself.
There was a time when all the knowledge that came to us come through stories. A bard sang of heroes and adventure, teaching her audience of history, whether real or not. A story teller gathered people around a fire and told stories of beginnings. In stories, we found our place in the world, discovered who we were. Now, we dismiss truth by saying ‘it’s only a story, it’s only fiction.’
Laura Penny writes in her essay on culture:
“Only a story. Only the things we tell to keep out the darkness. Only the myths and fables that save us from despair, to establish power and destroy it, to teach each other how to be good, to describe the limits of desire, to keep us breathing and fighting and yearning and striving when it’d be so much easier to give in. Only the constituent ingredients of every human society since the Stone Age.
Only a story. Only the most important thing in the whole world. (Bitch Doctrine, 2017, p. 98-99)”
In a world where truths are called lies and lies are called truths, only stories have the power to save us. Do we have the courage to tell them?