Authors often draw inspiration from history and mythology, but how much of this stays with their readers? Are we able to learn about our world through fiction?
Orlando, FL: When a book, game or movie is labeled Historical Fiction we assume there is some underlying truth to the setting, characters, or plot. We are experiencing something that has some factual foundation, riding on a fictional, embellished plotline and left with a more up-close experience. This includes the past from long ago such as in many of James Clavell’s novels like Gai-jin or movies such as Schindler’s List. Then we have content labeled Fiction, varying from Science Fiction to Fantasy to Thrillers to Romance. How much are we learning from titles labeled within the fiction genre without a Historical label to clue us in that, yes, I have some real-world truth within my pages. Author Valerie Willis, a fantasy romance novelist who dives deep into research for her own work, believes there are plenty of instances where Fiction is still teaching us(www.WillisAuthor.com).
Fiction does not always take place in fictional worlds, and even so there are some underlying truths to what authors are creating. One of the best aspects to reading fictional work is the ability to experience places in a more immersive and intimate manner through strong narratives and character perspectives. We can experience humid jungles to the coldest of winters, only to realize we are still on the bus and sitting in a lobby. Many times, we have walked the streets of Paris, Budapest, London, and even ancient cities like Antioch without leaving the comfort of our homes. The Martian takes place on Mars, a place where no man has yet set foot, but we learned about the environment. We know why it’s red, and though we can grow potatoes there, a controlled environment is needed. Indeed, fiction can teach us about places within and out of our reach on several levels.
What of the magic powers we encounter? Wizards and magic may not exist in the real world, but even this has some truth to it. There is a reason why authors choose elemental magic so often, because it is an extreme reflection of nature itself. The interactions of fire versus ice magic can be predictable in many ways, even teach us of the complications of being burnt or the signs of frostbite. If you hadn’t discovered our bodies are mainly made of water, then fiction would have taught you this much. Even in the animated series Avatar we discover some water-benders are capable of bending blood due to this simple real-world fact about the human body. In Romasanta by Valerie Willis, we learn magic in a far different perspective which involves superstitions and mythology. Spells intertwine with terminology long forgotten such as a way to label a werewolf being versipellis, a Latin word meaning skin changed that dates into the start of Greek Mythology. A common trend in Japanese anime and manga is using magic systems built off the principles from Alchemist, Daoist, and commonly seen, Xanxia. These are historical roots in which inspire the more fictional final piece to develop the magic we see in speculative fiction.
We can discover more about ourselves in fiction. Often authors strive for rich and tangible characters in which readers can relate or empathize with. It is not uncommon for a character to suffer physical and mental obstacles, both temporary or permanent. One author and avid reader, Kim Plasket, stated after reading Lisa, Bright and Dark, “I learned how mental illness can look normal on the outside, but really isn’t. It sounds weird in a way, but it’s one thing that stuck with me.” In fact, young adult novels are pushing into new areas with covering more controversial topics such as cutting and recovery in Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow. Valerie Willis recalls a book that shook her personally, “The book was The Only Alien On The Planet by Kristen D. Randle. As a seventh Grader, I grabbed it thinking I was in for a science fiction read, but inside that book was a lesson I didn’t know I needed about verbal abuse within a family.”
At the end of the day, fiction is still teaching its readers valuable lessons about the world and even more, about themselves. When losing yourselves within the pages of your next read, know you are indeed taking a little something from them. Indeed, authors do not do their readers the injustice of empty content without meaning or purpose. Lessons are being taught, experiences shared, and more importantly, an intimate connection made between author and reader. Cheers! Here’s to reading and the new knowledge we obtain, fiction or not!