I Like My Fiction To Be True02.22.12

“I like my fiction to be true,” was a memorable quote I heard recently. Whether recently coined or borrowed from another source, it stuck with me. A few days ago I grabbed a book quickly on my way out the door to a marathon train ride: Higashi Kurume to Yokosuka, then on to Haneda Airport, then back to Higashi Kurume. For Seattleites, that might be something like Everett to Fort Lewis, on to Sea-Tac then back to Everett… if there were affordable passenger trains which actually connected those points on a convenient time schedule. By chance or by design, The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin became my companion that day and reminded me why I like a good story. Put simply, it is true, or at least it helps me to see truth.  As the story unfolds, Ged, a youth with special powers who finds himself in rough circumstances, is offered the companionship and guidance of a legendary yet reclusive wizard. He eagerly accepts, then begins to chafe under the ordinariness of it all. This passage about Ged’s early dissatisfaction with his apprenticeship to Ogion (the wizard) grabbed me:

They wandered…like poor journeymen-sorcerers, or tinkers, or beggars. They entered no mysterious domain. Nothing happened. The mage’s oaken staff that Ged had watched at first with eager dread was nothing but a stout staff to walk with. Three days went by and four days went by and still Ogion had not spoken a single charm in Ged’s hearing, and had not taught him a single name or rune or spell. Though a very silent man he was so mild and calm that Ged soon lost his awe of him, and in a day or two was bold enough to ask his master,

“When will my apprenticeship begin, Sir?”

“It has begun,” said Ogion. There was a silence, as if Ged was keeping back something he had to say. Then he said it: “But I haven’t learned anything yet!”

“Because you haven’t found out what I am teaching,” replied the mage, going on at his steady, long-legged pace along their road…(p. 17)


It doesn’t take tremendous powers of perception to see parallels with my apprenticeship to Jesus, both long ago as a teenager and now as I study spiritual direction and contemplative prayer.  My awe and eager dread of the Holy One fade to assumed familiarity, and impatience rises up in me at the ordinariness of my path. “But I haven’t learned anything yet!” I lament and fret,  “Because you haven’t found out what I am teaching,” floats back calmly, gently, steadily on the wind.

So many of my efforts at prayer and spirituality have floundered because of this: I’m focused on what I want to learn or gain rather than on what God wants to teach. At times, certainly, my lack of self-discipline has sabotaged my attempts to live victoriously, to draw near to God. But if I’m really honest with myself, a lot of floundering is because I’m bent on pursuing what I want, what I think the life of faith should be about, and I draw back from what God is offering because it doesn’t fit what I want. I want to live victoriously. I want to feel both power and the emotion of love. I want to draw near to God- or so I think. This morning’s reading reframed things for me in a startling way.

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

This is certainly no new news for most of us, but I heard it fresh today when I asked what “wealth” means to me. I’m not so tempted by money, but I am tempted by independence, comfort, and knowledge because they give me the illusion of power and control. These are the coins of my currency, the things I hate giving up and can hardly imagine living without. Yet if I court these things heedlessly, they will ultimately destroy me. To truly follow God means learning the lessons God has for me, not using God to gain what I want. Funny how a novel about wizardry reveals my tendency to try to use God in the same way that some would use magic to grab power and chase after the illusion of control.

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Posted by Andrea Johnson under Uncategorized.

4 Responses to “I Like My Fiction To Be True”

  1. I too like it when a novel has the ring of truth in it. If the world view is a Christian one so much the better!

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    Posted by Bobbi on 12/13/09 February 24th, 2012 at 3:35 AMReply

    • For a long time I’ve wondered why I’m not a Harry Potter fan, and I think it has something to do with cultural distance from the moral bearings of the author’s world. On the other hand, much explicitly Christian fiction seems to lack…something, as if its concern for staying within certain boundaries robs it and me of fresh glimpses of certain aspects of reality.

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      Posted by Andrea Johnson on 12/13/09 February 24th, 2012 at 7:55 AMReply

  2. I love the title – I Like My Fiction to Be True. I remember a quote about literature, All stories becomes fiction after they are told once. Perhaps even the stories we tell about ourselves are fiction?

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    Posted by Julie on 12/13/09 March 5th, 2012 at 2:20 AMReply

    • Fascinating quote. I think I know what the person was getting at. Georgia O’Keefe said something about how exact representation of each detail of a thing was deadening, that it obscured the essence of what it was. It seems we can’t focus on everything at once, or we miss both(!) the bigger patterns and the smaller details, so we have to “edit” reality in order to perceive it. I want to keep letting God update/expand my “editions” of reality.

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      Posted by Andrea Johnson on 12/13/09 March 6th, 2012 at 10:12 AMReply

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