“Read Stories” Sub-Pages:
Frodo : I can’t do this, Sam.
Sam : I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened. But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo : What are we holding on to, Sam?
Sam : That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.
– Sam in The Two Towers (2002)
Note: For the sake of convenience, I am including all aspects of experiencing stories under this category, including, but not limited to, listening to stories, watching movies, telling stories, and watching a play or an opera.
Why Do Stories Matter?
Stories are an excellent place to wrestle with intangibles. They have the power to help you develop empathy, gain experience and wisdom, learn about human nature and the consequences of sin, and gain hope.
I was a twenty-something atheist when Jack recommended a children’s book to me. I hadn’t read The Chronicles of Narnia as a child, so C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was unfamiliar. I settled in on the mattress on the floor of my sparsely furnished bedroom and began reading. The majestic, electric Aslan leapt off the page and captivated me. I fell swiftly and irreversibly in love. It was perhaps my first inkling of falling in love with Jesus, though I didn’t know that yet. I knew one thing, though – I wanted to grab that great, mighty lion and hold on. Like Lucy and Susan Pevensie, I wanted to bury my face in his mane, inhale his sweetness, and never let go. – Karen Edmisten, You Can Share the Faith: Reaching Out One Person at a Time
Stories are Enjoyable
Stories are an essential part of our nature and meant to be enjoyed. Over-analyzing them can spoil them in many ways and certainly rob your children of the joy of stories.
Stories are Challenging
[Authors who write for the sake of the moral are] conscious of problems, not of people, of questions and issues, not of the texture of existence, of case histories and everything that has a sociological smack, instead of with all those concrete details of life that make actual the mystery of our position on earth. – Flannery O’Connor
Stories have meaning in the same way that people’s lives have meaning, and that’s already a very challenging thing. We can appreciate both stories and people best (and ironically get more meaning from them) when we aren’t overly pragmatic about them. Though we can learn a lot from stories (and people too!)
The type of mind that can understand good fiction is not necessarily the educated mind, but it is at all times the kind of mind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery.
― Flannery O’Connor,
Stories are Mysterious
“Able to read” means, of course, able to recognize simple words, a skill of sorts but not to be confused with reading. We were taught to recognize words but not to enjoy reading, and we weren’t given anything of value to read. So we learned not to read, but to respond to a reading technology. What did the technology leave out? Only everything. The crucial thing it omitted is the rich and valuable experience of incomprehension, the most important element of reading. The art (as opposed to the technology) of reading requires that you develop a beautiful tolerance for incomprehension. The greatest books are the books that you come to understand more deeply with time, with age, with rereading. – Michael Silverblatt, On Books
Stories are Fundamentally Redemptive
There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored. The reader of today looks for this motion, and rightly so, but what he has forgotten is the cost of it. His sense of evil is diluted or lacking altogether, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. When he reads a novel, he wants either his sense tormented or his spirits raised. He wants to be transported, instantly, either to mock damnation or a mock innocence.
― Flannery O’Connor,
The Sacramentality of Stories
Evangelizing the Imagination
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in instructing catechumens, wrote: “The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.” No matter what form the dragon may take, it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country, not to turn away from the storyteller.
― Flannery O’Connor,
Stories Offer Hope and Perspective
You Can Learn a Lot About People From Reading Stories
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that this is true on many levels. Even learning how to approach a book in the right way can be helpful in understanding how to approach and understand other people.
Reading a book is such a wild and strange and poetic experience on so many levels. In a way, every time a book is read it’s a different book, because the reading experience is deeply connected to the person reading it and to how it affects them. This can include their present mood, their past experiences, and their imagination. And so, even when the same person re-reads a book, it can seem like an entirely different book.
One thing I noticed as a reviewer of books (and leader of a team of reviewers) is that when you approach a book with a negative outlook and the intention of finding what’s wrong with the book, you can end up with a very skewed impression of the book. Now this is partly because books are written by humans: since no humans are perfect, no books are perfect. But when you focus on the flaws of either, it’s generally pretty difficult to see anything else.
Our family has learned a lot from reading and discussing books together – including some books that are complex and even controversial, such as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. I was astounded after first reading the sixth book in the Harry Potter series to read an article by a renowned Catholic author (who will remain unnamed here since he later removed the article) that claimed that this book was filled with sex. The only thing I could remember that had anything to do with sex in the book was the author making it very clear that a couple who got married in the story did not share a bedroom until they were married. It finally occurred to me a bit later than the author of the article probably confused the British slang terms “snogging” and “shagging”. What the book actually contained was quite a bit of poking fun at high school couples who were kissing. Big difference.
There are certainly some books and movies that I will put down and never finish, just as I will not continue to approach a person who pulls a knife on me, but on the whole, an open heart will enable us to find and appreciate the good in books as well as people. We cultivate hope in our hearts partly so that we can approach people, stories, culture, etc. in an uncynical and open way.
Test everything. Hold fast to what is good. – St. Paul
I was completely blown away by the amazing collection of quotes on Goodreads of Flannery O’Connor from her book of essays called Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. I have included a number of quotes here and am eager to read the book when I get a chance.