Is fiction a waste of time? We don’t need made-believe stories, some people argue. We need ‘solid’ disciples in our educational curriculum; history, science, logic – disciples that can translate into personal and professional success. Novels don’t help with real life, they say.
I beg to differ.
Stories are a tool of power. Wearing the guise of leisure, they subtly instill in you a broader vision, stronger values, and a multifaceted understanding of the people in your life. In the second grade, Enid Blyton taught me about kindness, friendship, and the consequences of your actions via pixies, elves, and fairy dust. When I was 12, I was pulled into the masterpiece that is Harry Potter, fascinated by the lives of wonder that the characters led, and later awed at the realization that even in a world of wands and killing curses, the most powerful weapon that Harry had was love. At 14, going through the teenage crisis about identity, friends and life in general, my sister lent me a copy of Little Women and it was like the world made sense again. Just a month ago, I remember lying curled up in a fetal position on my bed, a copy of The Shadow of the Wind clutched to my chest. Never before have I been rendered breathless time and time again by the simple story of an adolescent boy. Never before have I thought so deeply about the fragile nature of life.
‘Real life’ is, I believe, a misrepresented term. We define it as terrorism and corruption, as murder and divorce, as evil politicians and backstabbing friends, as cynicism and defeat. We define it as the opposite of happiness. What if real life, instead, is learning to see ourselves and the people around us for what we can be capable of? What if real life is that moment when a young boy reads a story about playground bullies and decides to never steal someone’s lunch again? What if real life is a girl learning to appreciate her sister after reading The Hunger Games? What if real life is not about where we’ve gone wrong, but about how to change routes and go right? And what if fictional stories are one way to take us there?
My younger sister is 11 years old, and soon she’ll be swamped with school text-books on history, science, and mathematics. So when she comes to me in frustration, complaining about the workload, I’m going to hand her a copy of Little Women and tell her to take a break. She might not top in her class in the upcoming quiz competition, but she may just win at life.