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How Good Stories Shape Reality

One of the challenges we have as a generation, and as a community, is to read, more specifically fictions. About a year ago, I was speaking to the principal of the only classical school in South Korea, and she complained to me with frustration, “Dr. Kim, the problem with the education in South Korea is that nobody likes to read any more, no parents and no children. It’s as if babies are born with smartphones in their hands.” Of course, she was referring to books of substance, not books for information. I concluded we are not too different here in America.

Ever since then, I thought long and deep about this problem. Why don’t people like to read classics, especially fiction? Of course, it is not easy for me either. But I love it. And I know many people don’t. Then here is what I discovered. It’s not that some naturally love books, and others don’t. And it’s not that some are more naturally more science-oriented, and others are more humanities-oriented. They may be slightly more gifted in one area or the other, and they may have a better education to read widely than others. But everybody loves stories, and everybody needs good stories to shape their view of reality. Basically, those who are poor on stories, on right kind of stories, are poor in their souls.

The most terrible kind of education a child can have is to read only books about how things work, and not also stories, fictions with good and evil, and stories of hope and redemption.

C. S. Lewis makes a comment about this regarding Eustace, the mean selfish kid, upon entering a cave with a dead dragon: “Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon’s lair, but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons.”

The reason good stories are so important is that they shape the way we view our lives, as well as our motives, hopes, and actions. Everybody must face suffering and evil. More or less. The key difference lies in how we view those sufferings and evil and overcome them with a happy ending. And I’m willing to bet those armed with beautiful, powerful stories filled with wisdom and wonder have a better ending to their lives than those who are not. During the Christmas break, I rewatched the Lord of the Rings Extended version with my family, and we are reading the book together as well. I cannot tell you how much more this book is shaping the way I think and feel about everything than when I first read the book many years ago, and more than many other stories I have read. It is because it is a good story, a right kind of story, with real sufferings, real evil, and real redemption.

There are many books out there. But good books are rare. As I am reading C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, I learned that Lewis created his own genre of sci-fi fiction. According to Lewis, there are four existing genres of sci-fi fiction. First kind is just regular story with a setting in the future. Lewis does not consider this as a real sci-fi. Second kind, Lewis calls it “fiction of Engineers,” which speculates on technological advancement. Third kind speculates on the kind of climate or condition that a certain planet has, but not what it is like to be there. Fourth is called “Eschatological” in that an imaginary future has a role to play in the story. He lists H. G. Well’s Time Machine as an example. Lewis believed that these four existing types of sci-fi fictions were not realistic enough, so he created his own genre which may be named “fantastical sci-fi,” where science is simply the means of conveying a fairy tale, which captures the spiritual realities of good, evil and God’s grace. This is an example of why it is necessary to create good stories, because good stories ultimately shape our own understanding of the world, and the way the stories of our own lives will end.

As we are about to begin a new year, after two years of a cancelled culture, it is a good time to ask ourselves, “What stories am I going to fill myself and my family with, by which I can enter a new chapter of evil and redemption?”

Happy New Year to You and Your Loved Ones!

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