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.