8 Quotes from Christian Authors about the Importance of Good Fiction

Many people undervalue the genre of fiction because fiction is often misconstrued as purely a method of entertainment.

lewis-reading

Listers, many people undervalue the genre of fiction because fiction is often misconstrued as purely a method of entertainment. Although this common use is by no means wrong, the exclusive reason why someone chooses to read a book should not be because they want to escape the doldrums of human existence. Fiction, however, should be another way of gaining a new perception on reality without the abstractions of philosophical debate (although fiction may perhaps precipitate philosophical discussion). The following list contains quotes from authors, some Catholic and some not, about the importance and value of the genre of fiction:

1. Flannery O’Connor on the Reality in Fiction

“People are always complaining that the modern novelist has no hope and that the picture he paints of the world is unbearable. The only answer to this is that people without hope do not write novels. Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won’t survive the ordeal.” –“The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1969), 77-78.

2. Blessed John Paul II on the Gospel’s Ability to Inspire Art

“Every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world. It is therefore a wholly valid approach to the realm of faith, which gives human experience its ultimate meaning. That is why the Gospel fullness of truth was bound from the beginning to stir the interest of artists, who by their very nature are alert to every “epiphany” of the inner beauty of things” –-“Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists”

3. G.K. Chesterton on the Underlying Morality in Fiction

“This great idea, then, is the backbone of all folk-lore — the idea that all happiness hangs on one thin veto; all positive joy depends on one negative. Now, it is obvious that there are many philosophical and religious ideas akin to or symbolised by this; but it is not with them I wish to deal here. It is surely obvious that all ethics ought to be taught to this fairy-tale tune; that, if one does the thing forbidden, one imperils all the things provided[…]This is the profound morality of fairy-tales; which, so far from the being lawless, go to the root of all law. Instead of finding (like common books of ethics) a rationalistic basis for each Commandment, they find the great mystical basis for all Commandments.” –“Fairy Tales”, All Things Considered, (New York, Feather Trail Press, 2009), 87.

4. C.S. Lewis on What Makes Good Fiction

“I never wrote down to anyone; and whether the opinion condemns or acquits my own work, it certainly in my opinion that a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.” — C.S. Lewis, “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said,” The New York Times November 18, 1956.

5. G.K. Chesterton on Teaching Children Fairy Tales

“We all know the people who think it is wicked to tell children fairy tales which they are not required to believe, though of course not wicked to teach them false doctrines or false news why they are required to believe. They hold that the child must be guarded from the danger of supposing that all frogs turn into princesses or that any pumpkin will at any minute turn into a coach and six and that he must rather reserve his faith for the sober truth told in newspapers, which will tell him that all Socialists are Satanists or that the Act of Parliament will mean work and wealth for all. We ourselves have generally found that children were quite sufficiently intelligent to question the first and that grown-up people were quite sufficiently stupid to swallow the second.” –“Dragooning the Dragon” As I was Saying (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 1985)

6. Flannery O’Connor on the Levels of Meaning in Fiction

“We all write at our own level of understanding, but it is the peculiar characteristic of fiction that its literal surface can be made to yield entertainment on an obvious physical place to one sort of reader while the selfsame surface can be made to yield meaning to the person equipped to experience it there.” — Flannery O’Connor “Writing Short Stories,” Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1969), 95.

7. Blessed Pope John Paul II on the Necessity of Fiction Conveying the Message of the Gospel

“In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable. Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colours, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery.” — “Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists”

8. Flannery O’Connor on the Necessity of the Supernatural in the Heart of the Author

“Where there is no belief in the soul there is very little drama. The Christian novelist is distinguished from his pagan colleagues by recognizing sin as sin. According to his heritage he sees it not as sickness or an accident of environment, but as a responsible choice of offense against God which involves his eternal future.” –Flannery O’Connor, “Novelist and Believer” Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1969), 167.

Author: Catherine

Catherine was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She converted to Catholicism in November 2004. She graduated from Oral Roberts University in the winter of 2005 with a degree in New Testament Biblical Studies. She married the love of her life in January 2006. She is a mother of two wonderful and rambunctious boys and hopes God will bless her with several more. She loves to read good literature and theology, she dabbles in writing, and she likes to riff bad movies.

  • Flannery O’Connor is awesome. Mystery and Manners is highly recommended for aspiring writeres

    • Well said! Mystery and Manners is certainly a delight to read especially for those who love the written word.

  • Richard

    Quote 2: This mentioning of the concept of ‘epiphany’ may be a direct reference to Jame Joyce, for whom it was a compelling concept, at least in his early fiction. Maybe, most people who would take the trouble to read this article already know that.

    Quote 3: I liked this quote the best.

    Flannery O’Connor: She is better to read than to talk about, imo.

  • I was very happy to discover your blog today. Speaking as a Catholic writer of fiction we have many interests in common. I look forward to reading more!

    Daniel McInerny

    children’s fiction: http://kingdomofpatria.com
    adult fiction: http://percivalsquest.wordpress.com

  • Protestant Christian

    Alas, one of your “authors and leaders of the Church” was not a Catholic (C. S. Lewis) and therefore unsaved and doomed to Hell, according to those medieval popes you were citing last week.

    • “[o]f the church” was meant to modify leaders not authors. I will fix that to avoid any confusion. Thank you for alerting me of this. The title indicates that not all writers quoted are Catholic, hence the usage of the term “Christian” and not “Catholic” in the title.

      Lewis was included in this list as he has made a huge impact on not only on Protestants but also Catholics. I am forever grateful for Lewis for inspiring me as a child to dream. As a convert to Catholicism, I am consider Lewis a stepping stone to finding my home in the Catholic Church. And as a wannabe writer, I look to Lewis as example of greatness and goodness. I would consider myself ungrateful for not including him in this list.

  • Protestant Christian

    “The title indicates that not all writers quoted are Catholic, hence the usage of the term “Christian” and not “Catholic” in the title.”

    I’m glad that you agree that one can be a Christian and not a Catholic, and thus that those medieval popes were wrong.

  • Vatican II has called Protestants “separated brothers” and that they are in a real sense united to the Church. It would appear that he old master, Lewis was more Catholic than Protestant. See the Great Divorce. The medieval popes did not address Protestantism; it was not around. But they did address persistence in wrong doctrine, which even many a Protestant does, sometimes with anathema.

  • Protestant Christian

    Why would The Great Divorce make Lewis “more Catholic than Protestant” even though he wasn’t a Catholic?

    • Mark

      Joseph Pearce and Christopher Derrick both have excellent books that talk about how Catholic Lewis was in his theology and in his imaginative writings. The Great Divorce describes “the foothills of Heaven” in a way that is consonant with the Catholic understanding of Purgatory. I don’t know what was posted on this site before that has you so upset (and so sarcastic). If you want answers to what Catholics believe, get a copy of the Catechism. If you’ve read Lewis, you already know that he held more in common with Catholics than with Protestant evangelicals, for example.

      • Protestant Christian

        How is it sarcastic to ask a question? Is that not allowed here? In any case, the obvious thing about The Great Divorce is that it is a *Protestant* treatment of Purgatory!

        • Mark

          “I’m glad that you agree that one can be a Christian and not a Catholic, and thus that those medieval popes were wrong.”

          Your rhetoric is insincere. Or sarcastic, if you will. Obviously no one agreed to any such thing. For starters, no medieval popes made proclamations against Protestantism. Protestantism did not yet exist, as TULSA, OK reminded you.

          “In any case, the obvious thing about The Great Divorce is that it is a *Protestant* treatment of Purgatory!”

          If that were the “obvious” thing (and I’ll grant it for the sake of argument), then by treating Purgatory seriously at all, Lewis revealed an area of enormous common ground that he shared with Catholic believers but with hardly any Protestants.

          I’m still curious about why you are so angry. Do you fervently desire to save us from error? If so, I thank you for caring enough to engage us here. Are you irritated at a tone of Catholic triumphalism you’ve found here or elsewhere and desire to humble us? Then I thank you again. But at the heart of what it means to be a Christian is to be united as the Body of Christ, sharing one loaf and one cup, as the Scriptures tell us. This unity, this catholicity, has been vouchsafed to us by the papacy through ancient, medieval, and modern times under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Fragments of Christ’s teaching exist elsewhere and the Eastern Orthodox even share valid ordination and the sacraments with us, but the full unity that Christ promised exists nowhere else. Whether we like it or not, whether we are proud and arrogant about it or humble and loving, it is a fact as real as the Incarnation. And one that equally compels a choice.

  • PROTESTANT CHRISTIAN

    “Your rhetoric is insincere. Or sarcastic, if you will.”

    I disagree about something and now I’m engaging in “rhetoric” and “sarcastic” at that! Actually, it’s simple logic: as he agrees that one can be a Christian and not a Catholic, he must also agree that those medieval popes were wrong, as they were claiming the opposite assertion. He can’t have it both ways, and neither can you.

    “In any case, the obvious thing about The Great Divorce is that it is a *Protestant* treatment of Purgatory!”

    If that were the “obvious” thing (and I’ll grant it for the sake of argument),

    No, by all means deny it if you want to. I’d love to see your argument, if you can come up with one.

  • CD

    “Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.” — G.K. Chesterton