An Orkan becomes a Human
A guest post from novelist Ann Tatlock
“Jesus told his disciples a story….” Luke 18:1, NLT
Remember the Mork Report? In the 70s sit-com “Mork and Mindy,” Robin Williams played the alien Mork from Ork who was sent to earth to study human behavior. At the end of each episode, he reported his findings to Orson, his Orkan boss. Mork often seemed baffled by this strange species called humankind, yet at the same time, he longed to be like them.
I myself am baffled by at least one segment of the human race—those who don’t read novels, claiming fictional stories to be entertainment at best, a waste of time at worst.
A waste of time?
How do we begin to learn as very young children? Most often through stories. What inspires our play and lays the foundation for the games that challenge us and help us grow? Stories. What carries us off to places and times that we otherwise wouldn’t experience and, in so doing, makes them a very real part of our lives? Stories. It’s only natural that this should be so. We were created for stories.
Jesus knew this, for he was himself a storyteller. Not that what he said wasn’t true, but he often wrapped the truth in fictional packages called parables. By doing so, he gained his listeners’ attention, captured their imagination and gave them images they could understand and hold onto. Novelists today are simply doing as Jesus did, offering truths within the context of fictional narratives.
Stories affect us profoundly. Stories have the power to change minds, change hearts, change lives. That’s because, as C.S. Lewis put it, stories have the ability to “baptize the imagination.”
And Lewis should know. He was an atheist until he read Phantastes by George MacDonald. Upon reading this story, Lewis claims his imagination was in a certain sense baptized because his mind was first opened to the possibility of Holiness. That was his initial step in becoming a Christian.
William Murray had a similar experience. The son of the famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Murray was himself an unbeliever until he read Dear and Glorious Physician by Taylor Caldwell, a novel based on the life of the biblical Luke. Murray was so touched by Luke’s story that he bought a Bible. Today, he’s a speaker and evangelist.
Novels a waste of time? Stories mere entertainment?
Every time we read a story written from a Christian worldview, we experience in miniature the grand story written by God himself: creation, fall, conflict, resolution, redemption, happy ending. That is the true story we’re all living in this world, and we see it mirrored in the stories written by people of faith.
As such, stories help us make sense of this broken world and give us hope while we wait for the happily-ever-after. The feedback that I and my fellow novelists have received from readers tells us that novels encourage hearts, challenge minds, inspire forgiveness, help mend relationships, offer beauty, restore the soul.
Mork longed to be human because, unlike on Ork where emotions were discouraged, humans are free to experience such intangibles as love and joy. I think Mork finally expressed his desires fully when some years later he morphed into John Keating.
In the 1989 movie “Dead Poets Society,” Robin Williams (who never quite shed his Mork persona) again plays an alien in a strange land, only this time he’s a maverick in a school of staid conformists. As an English teacher, Keating wants his students to fall in love with words, ideas, literature, poetry. In one great, memorable scene, he asserts, “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
Indeed. Good job, Mork. Welcome to the human race.
Ann Tatlock is the author of Sweet Mercy, Promises to Keep, All the Way Home, Every Secret Thing, Things We Once Held Dear, and several other novels. She has won numerous writing awards, been a guest writing instructor at Taylor University, and serves as an online writing teacher. Ann is represented by Chip MacGregor.
Life is stories, being human is a story, and stories go so far back into human history that they predate not only the written word, but language itself. So to assert that reading is a waste of time is absurd. And all those people who do make that assertion–or at least 99% of them–I’ll wager go home after work and watch TV programs or movies, the majority of which are… wait for it… STORIES!
My husband has espoused fiction to be a waste of time for years … until our 3 year old daughter now insists on reading Dr. Seuss and Little Red Hiding and Dora Books over and over and over again. I think all this time his calloused remarks hid the true heart of a fiction-seeking master. I’ve never heard anyone read Fox in Sox so fast in all my life 🙂 🙂 Fiction changes things (and people)!
Totally agree, Ann. My real life as a child held fear and turmoil. When I discovered Grace Livingston Hill books in our church library, I found role models to imitate. The books i read instilled in me character, integrity, and a love of the beautiful things in the world. Stories-some real and mostly not, held messages which helped shape my life. Thank God for novels. Thank God for Christian stories which still inspire me to be a better “me.” Those which are well written share truth in a form which changes lives.
Happy to read such a fine article. Story is powerful… if Jesus knew that how could we be so arrogant as to say it’s a waste of time?
Ann, my heart was broken a few years back when my mother told me, “Fiction is a waste of time.” This was at the beginning of my novel-writing journey, and I guess I’m enough of a rebel that her comment spurred me on to learn and grow and write.
I appreciate your words here. I’ve shared similar thoughts with the ladies group at my church. Have you seen the studies “proving” that reading fiction increases empathy? Makes me wonder what would happen if reading Christian fiction was required in school.
Meghan, good for you for forging ahead. I’m glad you didn’t take your mother’s words to heart. I haven’t seen the studies you mentioned but I’d certainly be interested in them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if reading Christian fiction was required in schools! We need to counter the dark books that are dominating YA today.
Isn’t it funny that Science is now demonstrating what we’ve known all along? I remember a class discussion in high school in which the teacher said that reading fiction helps us understand other people and their behavior. Here’s a recent article that gets rather science-y with formulas and tables but comes to a good conclusion: “Two experiments showed that empathy was influenced over a period of one week for people who read a fictional story, but only when they were emotionally transported into the story.” http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0055341
Quite an argument in favor of compelling fiction!
Well said. I’ve certainly read my share of non-fiction, but I can’t honestly say that any of them touch me the way fiction has. It’s as if the story opens up parts of your mind that don’t respond well to simple facts. I was around 13 or 14 when I read the Grapes of Wrath. In that one novel I understood more about that time period than I’d ever gleaned from my 12 years of public education. Killer Angels was another that shed light on a piece of history, making it personal and alive. It’s an honor to write these parables. I hope I can do it until the day I leave this world.
And, of course, na-no na-no.