Saturday, July 17, 2010

On Good Stories

A good story, as we generally understand it, has certain aspects that make it good. A plot that has its share of suspense, but does not rely on it. Characters who are real to us, and have depth. A setting that we can imagine well, and rules of the setting that the story continually follows--that is, if a bird of prey cannot fire while cloaked, there better be a lot of fuss from Captain Kirk if he sees such an event occur, as well as a good reason for the physical rules of that world changing.

But a story that someone from the land of Narnia would consider "good" is a very different thing from what our current culture considers a "good" story. What type of story does our culture crave? We crave stories about people. Not necessarily valiant people, or honorable people, or good people who have done amazing things. We'll take stories of foolish people doing mundane things, or mundane people doing foolish things. We have a People magazine that is all about well-known people doing things like getting married, having children, going to the store, wearing clothes, and expressing opinions. We gossip about the people we know. If we have nothing in common with someone else, it is easiest to fall back on discussing some mutual friend. We like sitcoms and soap operas, shows and movies about other people having normal lives that somehow seem more humorous or more dramatic than ours.

Maybe you, personally, do not appreciate these types of stories, and for that I give you an approving slap on the back. You are perhaps a higher-minded person than I, for even as I begin to condemn our fixation on the lives of other people, I find myself enjoying Everybody Loves Raymond or Seinfeld or, until fairly recently, a neat bit of gossip about someone in my social sphere. And, why? To what end?

What about stories of Valor, and Honor, and Virtue? The stories of battles and heroes that I ignored as a child are the stories I wish I knew now. In the Chronicles of Narnia, when they sit around telling stories, they speak of great wars and great peace-times and great Kings and great Queens. They speak of Aslan, the representation of Jesus in that world. They tell true and virtuous stories, and they seek truth over all. Are the truths within Narnia better, or more interesting, than the truths on this Earth? I don't suppose they are.

And so, I leave you with this thought, often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt though I don't suppose anyone knows for sure who said it: "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." It is an incomplete thought, but the spirit of the thought is very much worth considering.

P.S. There was a fair amount of drama and the like even as far back as Bible-times. Consider Genesis chapter 30, or really, the entire story of Rachel, Leah, and Jacob. Yet, the stories were told for a higher purpose than to entertain by the lives of other people. This drama, and all dramas within the Bible, are told for the sake of showing the Glory of God.

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