Foreword to Leaps of Faith
Foreward to the anthology Leaps of Faith, edited by Karina and Robert Fabian, The Writers' Cafe Press (US) 2008
I was asked by Karina if I'd write the foreward to Leaps of Faith, having had the story Little Madeleine in its predecessor Infinite Space, Infinite God. As is usual with these things, I had no idea what to write - and with the deadline approaching, forced myself to sit down and told myself that I had blank sheet, and I could do pretty much whatever I wanted with it. So I did.
It seems to have struck a chord with some people, so I'm putting it here; it's sort of a mini-essay, in praise of stories. If it encourages you to read Leaps of Faith, so much the better.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License.
I was a teenager when I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time. Afterwards, I wanted to believe it was true: that somehow, somewhen, elves had walked the earth, men had lived heroic, tragic lives, and curious creatures called hobbits had once saved everyone from evil triumphant before sinking back into well-earned obscurity. I was probably ripe for the plucking – I’d just embarked on a decades-long love affair with science fiction, and you know… hormones. I didn’t analyse it at the time, but allowed myself to be swept up and away by the power of mere words on a page.
Three decades later, I can put a scientific name to that experience: narrative transport. It describes our capacity to be taken out of our mundane lives, immersed in another world and our feelings irresistibly tied to those of the story’s characters. Whether this capacity is hardwired by evolution, designed by God, or both, it appears there is part of us that can only be accessed by stories. Storytelling is as ubiquitous in human society as religion is, whether that culture is past, present, or future. We tell stories because we have to. We are made that way.
Tolkien called his writing an act of sub-creation, not to mean it was some cheap knock-off that wouldn’t stand the test of time, but an act of secondary creation. Tolkien was a Catholic. He knew his Creator. He knew that in order to breathe life into Middle Earth, there was nothing for it but to make it from the thought up. Genesis begins with the Word of God: Arda is sung into being.
The Lord of the Rings has endured precisely because it captures the very essence of storytelling. It does not seek to improve us. It does not turn us inwards. Rather, it makes us look outside ourselves. It dares us to dream. It allows us to tell our own stories.
There is a catch: good storytelling isn’t safe. Not everyone will be home by nightfall for tea and toast, the family once sundered may never be reunited, the light once extinguished might never be relit. The king is dead, the forests are uprooted, children are lost, promises are broken, hope… sometimes hope is all that is left.
And yet, and yet: I still want it to be true.
Published under a Creative Commons license - Simon Morden 2010