I’ve just started reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I haven’t finished the book yet, so I don’t have a commentary on the story. But something struck me BEFORE the story started. And knowing what I think I know about John Green and his novels, he’s someone with experience dealing with this subject: the concept of “How much of this story is true?”
If you’ve read any of his other books, you know they’re YA contemporary fiction. I’d go so far as to say literary, but honestly, I’m not entirely sure what that term even means anymore. I just know his books entertain me, but they also make me think. About big, deep, and meaningful subjects. I’m also a sucker for a clever turn of phrase, and his books are full of those too. In his book Looking for Alaska we follow a group of students in a boarding school. From what I’ve read on blogs and articles about the book, the story is loosely based on (perhaps inspired by is the better phrase?) his own experiences attending boarding school.
I’m the type of person who reads every page of a book, from the copyrights and ISBN numbers in the beginning through the acknowledgments at the end. A few pages into The Fault in Our Stars is a note from John Green. To paraphrase, he says:
- This is a work of fiction, not a true story.
- It is not only useless to speculate about the true-ness of a story, it’s damaging. To do so implies we cannot find worth nor learn anything from fiction.
Think about that for a minute, especially point number two. Chew on it. Now. Think of your favorite works of fiction.
Somewhere along the way it seems we, as a collective, have decided fiction is merely a useless made-up story. For entertainment and not much else. Why have we decided this? It’s definitely not true. Even gory horror novels tell us that evil can be defeated, and if it can’t, we should fight it anyway. Romance novels show us love exists in a hundred million different ways. The Lord of The Rings taught us that deep down, we all want the same primal things: to be safe, to be loved, and to survive. It also taught us that power is corrupting. Harry Potter taught us about friendship, that we should be strong when faced with adversity, about not judging others based on what we see on the surface, and that those of us with the smallest voices still have it within us to do great things.
Why are we tossing these insights aside because something is made up?
I mean, let’s take a look at something like the Bible. Now, there are those out there who argue it is a work of fiction. There are those out there who say it is living word. I know my own beliefs on this subject, but I am not here to discuss them. What I do want to point out is whether you see Jesus as savior, as a prophet, or just as a dude who existed a few thousand years ago, he taught people using parables. Stories. Big, important lessons, actually.
I’m not saying today’s authors are the equivalent of Christ. They’re not modern-day prophets (hey, maybe some of them are, but I think that’s the kind of thing you don’t know straight away). But authors are essentially doing the same thing: talking about big, important things using story to illustrate their point. Or even little, important things. All fiction, no matter how reality-based or fantastical, is rooted in something real. But the stories themselves are not.
So when we open up our favorite books and discover they have depth, let’s not try to find the “true story” in the pages. Let it be. The made-up story is just as amazing.