121. Literature Is a Luxury; Fiction Is a Necessity

I am deeply grateful for the feedback on the previous post! Before making any definite decisions about TMTF’s future, I’ll be taking suggestions, comments and criticisms for one more week. Please check out this post about the blog’s future and comment away!

My tastes aren’t particularly refined. I watch children’s cartoons, listen to video game music and drink cheap, generic blends of coffee.

There is one area, however, in which my tastes are pretty sophisticated: I like literature. Sensational horror tales, thrillers and romances don’t interest me. Give me the classics! Few things delight me as much as a deep, compelling story. I love engaging prose, dynamic characters, intricate plots, thought-provoking themes and clever concepts.

The problem with literature is that it’s not very accessible. The classics aren’t easy to read.

G.K. Chesterton knew all about literature, and he had this to say: “Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.”

We might not all enjoy the classics, but most of us enjoy stories. Whether we see superhero movies, read novels about sparkly vampires or watch professional wrestling, we like fiction. Something about losing ourselves in a story is irresistible.

The ironic thing is how often simple stories succeed where fine literature fails.

When I was in college, I read One Hundred Years of Solitude for a literature class. The greatest work of a Nobel Prize-winning author, the novel features a meandering plot, intriguing symbolism, postmodern perspectives and an unforgettable blend of surrealism with matter-of-fact narration.

I appreciated One Hundred Years of Solitude. With almost every chapter, I found myself thinking, “Ah, I see what you did there, you Nobel Prize-winning author, you. That’s very clever.” Upon finishing the novel, I pronounced it a masterpiece.

The problem with One Hundred Years of Solitude is that it utterly failed to engage my emotions. Reading it was strictly an intellectual experience. It left an impression on my mind, but not on my heart.

More recently, a piece of fan fiction was brought to my attention. It’s impossible for me to be too disapproving of fan fiction because, I confess, I’ve dabbled in it myself from time to time.

All the same, I must point out that most fan fiction is badly written. It’s usually nothing more meaningful than wish-fulfillment. Rather than focus on telling a good tale, too many fans settle for turning their daydreams into stories. Fan fiction may have some trifling literary value, but it can’t begin to compare to original stories.

Some weeks ago, however, I stumbled upon a brief piece of fan fiction that intrigued me. I read it, expecting the usual mix of bad writing and clichéd ideas, and received quite a surprise. The story was actually touching. Reading it was cathartic. It wasn’t especially well written. Like all fan fiction, it shamelessly used situations and characters from an existing story. From a literary perspective, the story was completely unexceptional.

Even so, it made an emotional impact.

That experience set me thinking about the irony of fiction. As Chesterton pointed out, literature is a luxury, but fiction is a necessity. Few of us appreciate the classics, but we all find comfort in stories of one kind or another.

Sometimes a humble piece of fan fiction can touch someone in a way even a literary masterpiece cannot.

It’s a bonus if a story impresses the reader with its depth and complexity. In the end, it’s enough for a story to touch the reader’s heart.

I’m still critical of fan fiction, and I still love the classics deeply. Even so, I must admit that literature is a luxury. In the end, stories are all we need.

2 thoughts on “121. Literature Is a Luxury; Fiction Is a Necessity

  1. This is just the post I needed to free myself of the shame of devouring The Hunger Games trilogy in a single week. In so many ways it was painful to read, but I was completely engaged.

    • I’ve been told The Hunger Games is a good series, but I haven’t read it yet. I’m still recovering from the trauma I sustained the last time I read a popular adolescent novel: the first Twilight book.

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