Do Facts Equal Truth?

About ten years ago, someone said to me, “You write fiction because you can’t handle the real world.”

I was stunned by the accusation. For one thing, my fictional characters were very real to me! And I tackled real situations in my books–often based on actual events. From my childhood on, I’d learned a lot of truth about the human condition from reading fiction. In many cases, I learned more from fiction than from observing my real world.

Do Facts Equal Truth?

In Madeleine L’Engle {Herself}: Reflections on a Writing Life, the Newbery-award winner wrote about this issue “the truth of art”: “Once when I suggested to a student that he go to the encyclopedia when he wanted to look up a fact, he asked me, ‘But can’t I find truth in stories too?’ My reply: ‘Who said anything about truth? I told you to look up facts in the encyclopedia. When you’re looking for truth, then look in art, in poetry, in story, in painting and music.’ Now this student was doing no more than making the mistake of many of his elders, confusing provable fact with truth, and then fearing truth enough to try to discount it. If I want to search for the truth of the human heart, I’m more apt to go to Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov than a book on anatomy.”

I think that people who discount fiction don’t really understand it–or haven’t read much of it. They don’t grasp the power of story to carry truth. They have a bit of a superior attitude, as if reading a biography or a book on unclogging your sink has more merit than a novel.

Truth Learned in Fiction

I still have most of my favorite childhood books, and I still re-read some of them. I loved sharing them with my daughters, and I now love sharing them with my grandchildren. Some truths are universal and timeless (like the lessons on friendship learned from Charlotte’s Web.)

My all-time favorite children’s book was Little Women. I learned a lot of important truths from the March family: how to love deeply, how to grieve a loss and go on, and how to feed the imagination. (I expect the writing “bug” bit me then, as I watched Jo March toiling away in the attic over her stories.) I learned that writers wrote about what they knew, what they cared deeply about, and how to have hope.

Life Lessons

What about you? What book or two from your own childhood impacted you? What truths do you remembering learning in fiction?

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