Someone recently made a passing remark to me about fiction and “believing a lie.” I had never heard those two connected before, but it certainly sounds familiar.
The association of fiction and lies is an example of the danger of rigid rules: they are an invitation to sloppy or careless reasoning.
Let’s look at the question. Is a work of fiction simply a group of lies? Not by any definition I know of. Does a lie simply mean untrue information? In that case, a person who makes an honest mistake, who says what he or she believes to be true, is lying. Of course, they are not. Lying has to include the intention to mislead or deceive.
That leads to another question. Does the author of any story, fiction or non-fiction, intend to persuade us to believe that which is not true? That’s not nearly as simple a question as whether or not a book is based on facts. Many a “news” story is attempting to persuade us to believe something. Inevitably, some of those things are not true.
Did the director of the film It’s A Wonderful Life intend for us to believe George Bailey was a real person? Or that an angel named Clarence could arrange it so that a person could discover what the world would be like if they had not been born? Of course not. I never heard of anyone who believed such things.
The message that director Frank Capra wanted to convey is that every life matters, and that people who live ordinary lives can be heroes.
The film is fiction, indeed fantasy. But it is, in he deepest sense, true.
In a wonderful, long out-of-print book titled Creative Techniques for Christian Writers (Pacific Press, 1968), Norma Youngberg explored this question. She suggested that we need to tell and choose stories that are true in the deepest sense.
Many factual stories accurately reflect events and activities but are false in the deep sense. One example she uses is the biblical truth, “the way of the transgressor is hard.” I can think of any number of contemporary biographies, factual in their content, which sell the idea, “the way of the transgressor is . . .wonderful!”
Far, far too many so-called Christian discussions of stories get bogged down in superficial, and often superstitious concerns about words and hidden meanings, when what they ought to be looking at is the truth or falsity of the message the story is telling.
With that in mind, I will walk in–not rushing, I hope–where many fear to tread. Why I believe, of the four stories mentioned–Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Lord of The Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia–some are good, and some are bad. You may not agree, but I will have put my criteria out there so you at least understand why I make the choices I do.