The Power of Fiction

I love fiction. It used to concern me that I would much rather curl up with a grand glorious epic novel than read something weighty (non-fiction) until I read this commentary by Orson Scott Card in his book Maps in a Mirror.

He wrote, “It might seem that fiction becomes more mythic as it is divorced from identifiable real-world patterns, but it is not really the disconnection from reality that makes fiction mythic—if that were so, our myths would all be of madmen. Rather a story becomes more mythic as it connects to things that transcend reality. Tolkien’s Middle Earth is so thoroughly created in The Lord of the Rings that the wealth of detail makes readers feel as though they had visited a real place; but it is a place where human behavior takes on enormous importance, so that moral issues (the goodness or evil of a person’s choices and actions) and causal issues (why things happen; the way the world works) take on far greater clarity. We find in Aragorn, not just that his noble, but Nobility. We find in Frodo, not just that he is willing to bear a difficult burden, but Acceptance. And Samwise is not just a faithful servant, but also the personification of Service.

Thus it is in fantasy that we can most easily explore, not human behaviors, but Humanity. And in exploring it, we also define it; and in defining, invent it. Those of us who received a story and believed in its truth (even if we don’t believe in its factuality) carry those memories inside us and, if we care enough about the tale, act out the script it provides us.”

I love the Tolkien stories, although I prefer the movies made by Peter Jackson to the books. One movie scene, that provided part of the inspiration for this blog, occurs between Frodo and Sam toward the end of The Two Towers.

The burden of the ring has become heavy. Frodo has reached his breaking point.


Frodo:I can’t do this Sam.”

Sam: “I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out all the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding onto something.”

Frodo:What are we holding onto Sam?”

Sam:That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”


I could not agree with Sam more.

Note: any typos are mine and not the quoted authors or movies.