The Wonder of Fiction - Often More Real Than Reality

THE INITIAL CRACKS on the spine of the book have presented themselves like the surface of a frozen lake before it breaks. The pages have softened — notes and scribbles cover their fraying corners.

These qualities represent a book that has transcended its purpose as words put on pages glued between two covers — the book has spirit. 

Its signs of wear suggest something more profound, just as the wrinkles or freckles on my face indicate more than age, but a face that has smiled, time in the sun and the cold and the wind, a life lived and shared.

The book that I’m reading is The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, the second book in The Kingkiller Chronicle, following The Name of the Wind.

I’m about halfway through. It’s usually at this point when the book becomes a part of me — I carry it as an essential item practically wherever I go, along with my phone, wallet and journal.

I think about the story throughout the day as I thumb through a couple of pages here and there. My writing reflects the genre that I’m reading, which right now is fantasy. I see the world in an entirely new light. All books have the power to change how we see the world, day in and day out.

But over the last two years, the fantasy stories that I’ve read have had a greater effect on me than any college class or self-help book; perhaps I sound like a little girl after reading the first Harry Potter book, and I’m proud of it.

It’s because I truly believe fiction can help us discover who we are, what we love, and what it means to be a human being.

Writing fiction

Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Eragon and The Inheritance Series, The Kingkiller Chronicle — these books have indeed changed the world and what we consider reality. But what is reality? Is it not the world portrayed on the pages that I turn just as much as it is the town I walk through or the air I breathe?

When writing nonfiction, I might ask myself if the facts can be backed up and if the audience will relate. I put myself in a box trying to write what’s true.

Yet we possess the truth within us if we dig deep enough or if we simply allow our imaginations to run. Without restraint, the truth buried within us comes forth. Maybe not the truth of one individual person, but the truth of who we are as human beings — multi-dimensional, beautiful, broken, strong.

The freedom to wonder and write often results in powerful and telling themes of who we dream of being, what we possess deep within our soul, and the essence of what it means to be alive.

That is fiction, often more real than reality, not an escape as many people believe, but a mirror which reflects who we truly are and who we long to be deep down in the well of our collective consciousness.

A new perspective

When I was a kid, I read fantasy books because the worlds which I read about captivated me and scared me and made me believe that reality exists in multi-dimensional planes.

I read stories that showed me vampires walk among us — good vampires, demons, a la Cirque Du Freak and the Demonata series. These stories caused me to watch the moon in the waning hours of the night and and explore my own backyard and even get into chess — I was enraptured.

I stopped reading for fun in high school and college; I guess I felt I didn’t have the time. But in the last couple of years, my passion for fantasy reignited.

As a writer, I read all fiction and specifically fantasy books with an entirely new perspective. I’m not only lost in the words on the page; I’m captivated by the writer’s mind and the universal themes of being human which they embed into their stories.

This concept struck me initially as I was reading Eragon last year on a road trip. The following books in the Inheritance series, Eldest, Brisingr, and Inheritance, continued to astound me.

Perhaps a book like Eragon provides a kid with the inspiration to one day take on the world and become the hero of their own story. But as a twenty-six-year-old, I’m not only invested in the story, but what the author Christopher Paolini must have experienced writing this book.

Writing is his livelihood; he created a language; he created something out of nothing. A world like our own, with struggles and adventure and magic and evil.

Universal themes

I didn’t know it as a kid, but the books deal with the perennial questions of our existence — what to make of religion and gods, and where to place our faith.

At this stage of my life these questions are paramount to me: what might exist beyond our world, what to make of love, of adventure, of purpose, of believing in a cause greater than ourselves.

I could sense Paolini’s existential questioning through his character’s words, and that is pretty damn cool. In books like Eragon, I connect to the big existential themes which bleed through the pages.

In a book like The Wise Man’s Fear which I’m reading now, Rothfuss writes in a witty style that makes me stop and wonder about the details of our own world.

Sometimes I’m engrossed in the book, lost in the dark and empty space of fantasy. But then a line shines through, a twinkling star amongst the darkness which wakes me up to think, ah, there you are Rothfuss, you sly devil. 

I think about him writing as the main character, as the book is told in first-person. Yet, it’s him writing and it’s me reading, and there’s this epic connection of two people mind-jousting.

The dance of fiction

What makes reading special to me over watching a movie is how the tale is created in the mind of the reader, not on the screen. Neither is better or worse, they’re just different formats of world-creating.

But with fiction, there’s this sort of dance between the author’s words and the reader’s mind; nothing is concrete, yet every word, every detail, every wisp of emotion builds something that is never explicity illustrated.

The reader carries this creation of their own imagination — the reader is tasked to create their own fantasy, which can indeed change the reader’s life as their own reality blends into what they imagine while reading. Everybody is affected differently from the same words — that’s why the themes shine through and connect us all as human beings.

Reigniting your childlike wonder

What is something you did as a kid which perhaps you could do again with a fresh perspective?

It’s easy to believe that what we did as kids is beneath us now, be it reading the stories we loved or painting or sewing our own clothes (I’m starting to feel like Tim Allen from The Santa Claus passing out the kid’s toys to the adults — Rock’em Sock’em Robots for you Marty!).

But honestly, why not color our reality with the joy we found when we were kids and create a world full of fantasy, universal truths, and a hell of a lot more magic.

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