Fiction vs Non Fiction

They made an impression

The other day I had the privilege of doing a radio interview on “Arts Connection” on FaithFM with Robert White. (You can listen in on my website www.barriedoyle.com). Rob asked me a very interesting question that got me thinking deeper than I was able to within the span of the few seconds the interview provided.
Very simply, he asked me what books had influenced me in my writing career. On the spur of the moment I suppose most of us could trot out the ‘standards’—The Bible, War and Peace, Shakespeare, and so on. But it is a good question that deserves deeper thought.
What books influenced you when you were growing up? For me, I remember reading, no devouring, books by Arthur Ransome. Swallows and Amazons, Winter Holiday, Coot Club and his many other stories about young kids spending holidays in the Lake District and Norfolk Broads of England. It was a time of freedom, adventure and little parental or adult interference. Camping on a deserted island and sailing across the lakes with a bunch of kids with vivid imaginations. John and Susan, Nancy and Peggy were pirates and explorers. So what if it was the mid-30’s England and I was in Canada in the 50’s! The stories were real and captured my imagination.
Then there was C.S. Lewis and his Narnia stories. I graduated from them to Lewis’ seminal works such as Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters. Interestingly, I was not as fond of his science fiction trilogy even though others loved them.  From Lewis I moved on to the glory and wonder of Middle Earth with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I try to read those books every couple of years and have loved Peter Jackson’s rendering of the stories (recognizing that movies can never provide the depth that books do, simply skimming the surface and adapting the stories for visual and cinematic reasons). I cannot wait for the conclusion to The Hobbit this Christmas.
As I reflect on these books, I realize that I was always enraptured by good solid storytelling. There are hundreds if not thousands of other authors who have also enthralled me with good stories. And, if there is one common denominator it is this: all those stories identified human situations and as stories embedded in life, they also reflect humanity with all its triumphs and failures. Whether these books were written with an underlying Christian world view or not, the really good stories document the gospel in action—sin, courage, love, redemption and forgiveness among them.
Tolkien’s masterpiece exemplifies this. Frodo is challenged to undertake a perilous journey. So are we. He is bucked by malevolent forces and tested to the extreme. As are we in our life journey. He is guided by a kindly, loving, powerful man named Gandalf. So are we and his name is Jesus. Frodo is surrounded by loyal friends who go to the wall with him. We have them too—family and friends who love us unreservedly and who will support us to the end. And finally, Frodo achieves his quest and is given the ultimate reward of immortality. We too have the same ultimate reward.
Too many of my friends brag about the fact that they are “not into fiction” and never read fiction. And I feel badly for them that they lose so much by not taking the time to relish good fiction and become part of a new and different world. Good friends they will remain, but they miss out by not cracking open a good story that paints the human condition in rousing ways. They miss out on stretching their imaginations. They don’t get to observe the ultimate endings of stories. They never get to enjoy imaginary friends who feel like they do, suffer like they do, accept challenges and succeed like they do.
There is a place for non-fiction. I spent my career as a journalist and public relations executive telling the true stories of real people. But in the back of my mind always, was the thought that there is something more, something missing in the human condition if that’s all we concentrate on. The human mind was conceived by God to embrace both reality and imagination. If we shut one element off, we deplete the power of the other.
Put it another way. All music—classical, opera, rock, country—is fiction; it is created from nothing. Yet not one of my non-fiction friends would argue that they are not “into” music because there is no such thing as ‘non-fiction music’. The same applies to art. So why do they think that missing out on fiction is somehow good and to be celebrated?
Sure there’s good non-fiction but there is also some really bad non-fiction. And, conversely, there is also some bad—sometimes grossly bad—fiction. But that too is life.
My challenge to you is two-fold. First, identify the books (stories and novels) that first impacted you and made and impression. Then explore the exciting world of writing and discover new books that will charm and challenge you.
For me, I have two more books in the Oak Grove Conspiracies trilogy to write. The Excalibur Parchment is almost ready for its debut; The Lucifer Scroll and The Madoc Treaty are in the hopper. More suspense thrillers I hope my non-fiction reading friends will enjoy.
But first I think I will brew a good cup of coffee (thank you Keurig) and curl up on a hill overlooking the Lake District in England and enjoy the adventures of John and Susan and Roger and the rest of the Swallows and Amazons gang. I need some more inspiration.

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