The Seductive Power of Fiction

Whenever we enter a fictional world, our world detracts as the other expands, and in no time we have immigrated to a new community

Understanding human intention is not always easy; even something as simple as reading can leave you baffled. To some, fiction is nothing more than a story constructed in the mind without external reference; to others, the story is so much more than pure fiction, in some cases, it’s more pertinent than reality. Whenever we enter a fictional world, our world detracts as the other expands, and in no time we have immigrated to a new community; communicating with the characters, feeling their joy and agony, laughing with them and crying for them to the point that people around us worry for our wellbeing. Even though I spend hours continually doing all of the above, at times I find this completely irrational response totally incomprehensible. My failure to produce a satisfactory answer as to why we love fiction so wholeheartedly has left an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

 The scale of protest was so widespread that she felt obliged to clarify and defend her decision

The reader’s journey with the characters is perhaps the greatest affair of all: delight comes to us as it comes to them; sadness swallows us as it swallows our companions. However our emotional response to tragedy inevitably varies, as it is evident that there’s an order of significance with characters. Love for the ‘main’ characters inevitably emerges triumphant when comparing to ‘minor’ ones. Our sorrows are unparalleled when ‘main’ characters leave us. Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series, discovered this when she ‘killed’ her character, Tris. The scale of protest was so widespread that she felt obliged to clarify and defend her decision on her blog.

Are the deaths of these characters fair? We believed they would always be with us until the end of the journey, the love between us never burning out. Authors seduce us with their creations and in doing so make an implicit promise to ensure their wellbeing. It’s unbearable to contemplate Harry Potter ‘moving on’ and abandoning us, or Hermione Granger dying during the Battle of Hogwarts. The deaths of other characters are negotiable, though, as if their lives were less worthy of saving. While the death of Lupin, Snape and Dobby would provoke sadness among us, to see Harry sacrificing himself would definitely be a far deeper wound than any of us could sustain. If devotion to fiction is just another example of mysterious human behaviour, there may be some comfort when we realise that our love for those characters is conditional, biased and unevenly distributed: a reflection of reality.

How have these shackles manifested themselves? The irrefutable desire for the safety of our favourite characters, a wish we try to impose on the author has unintentionally made literature a refuge. How devastating is it to realise the world we entered is just as cold as the one we left behind? How distressing is it for us to bid farewell to our sorrows, only to find it waiting for us on the other side? If an author cannot grant us sanctuary, who can? As Alaska Young asked, “How do we get out of this labyrinth of suffering?”

 We demand a ‘false world’, a world where our desires are met, but at what cost?

The answer unfortunately is the one we already know but refuse to acknowledge. We seek an unending love and when it is refused, we begin to resent the author. We demand a ‘false world’, a world where our desires are met, but at what cost? Freedom is to be taken away as we forbid the authors to tell the stories they intended to share with the sole purpose of granting our childish wish. The illusion that some lives are more important than others has convinced us that some characters are untouchable – a lie we’ve grown accustomed to, a deception we attempt to compel the author not to shatter. But those bold and brave individuals are trying to convey the truth instead of maintaining deceit, shouldn’t we have the courage to accept them?

Haruki Murakami, one of my favourite authors, once confessed novelists are ‘professional spinner of lies.’ Rather than being blamed for lying they receive praise. I, too, on numerous occasions, resented the number of days that the characters had, and I wanted more; I wanted the author to lie in a way that would undermine the truth. I still love encountering sophisticated lies, but only because by lying, truth is brought into a new light. For so long, some readers have resented authors for their bluntness and honesty, but maybe one day, appreciation will come for the little infinity that they create. They’ve led me to discover a world that is bigger than I could have ever known without them, and a life that is more fruitful than it could have ever been. For that I am eternally grateful.

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