When you think of a great story, what's the first thing that comes to mind? What is your favorite book? (Or what was it when you were young and still had a love for books?)
When I was younger I loved the stories about Nancy Drew. In fact, I probably have every one of the books from the original series. In short, I was obsessed. Nancy Drew made a lot of sense to me. She was smart, and witty, and at the end of the day she always solved the mystery. Then again, I loved all kinds of books. I read anything I could get my hands on.
There's something magical in the art of storytelling. Stories let you be that girl, have that perfect day, and solve that ultimate mystery. They let you succeed and fail. They put you in places you may never go to in the real world. And until recently I wasn't sure what made stories so entrancing.
Then it clicked.
We read stories to understand the world around us. Stories present us with a world where we can see everything play out, but nothing actually happens to us, at least not physically. This idea comforts us.
Stories are comforting because they are able to distance us far enough from problems that we can think of proper solutions. We delve into books to find the truth, or rather to see what kind of things ensue when we ignore the truth. And we can see the truth because we aren't involved in the problems.
You probably love the book that you thought of because it spoke to some truth you wanted to understand, much like I loved Nancy Drew because she always did the right thing and for that she could solve the mystery and fix the injustice around her. And because we choose what we read, we can see what we believe from the books we chose.
This may not always be true, but how often do you enjoy a story where the bad guy wins? Or when a character makes a million mistakes, but still wins without any struggle? The truth is, those stories aren't satisfying to us. They aren't like the real world. Characters like that deserve some kind of challenge or heart change, and we look to see that happen.
While some stories are idealistic, we still know the bounds of truth that the story world has to exist in. There can be nothing completely perfect, we can't go on without any kind of conflict, and not every character will be completely lovable. These are just some of the things we anticipate.
While in our real lives we may not love the truth, in stories the truth is crucial to our learning and growth. Books allow us to learn in a way that's safe. We can see problems and not have to live through them. We can see the answers and understand what's good.
There's something beautiful about how books help us see the truth. Have you read anything lately?