Uplifting stories that tug at the imagination populate the Internet. There are tales of people separated by war who are reunited decades later; an injured and disoriented fighter pilot escorted to his home base by an enemy pilot; a man of little means who helps another only to have that kindness returned ten-fold.
And in the comments section of nearly every one of these and similar stories are posts where the cynic says things like “that didn’t really happen.” Or “I’ve read this before except the characters had different names and it supposedly happened in a different time.” Even the ones for whom the story is a feel-good experience say things like “I sure hope this story is true.”
My question is “WHO CARES?” In most of these stories, the narrative serves to deliver a message. That is the point, not whether the minute details of the story are ‘true.’ Our gift of imagination can leap the minor inconsistencies.
Imagination of Days Gone By
For those of us old enough to remember, and maybe some of the more recent generations, I think of the story of the Three Little Pigs. As the story goes, three little pigs built houses. One hurriedly built his house of straw. Within a short time, a bad wolf blew the house down and ate the pig. The second built his house of wood. Certainly, that would take a little more time and effort on the pig’s part, but in the end, the wolf was able to blow that house down too and ate the second pig.
The third pig worked diligently, while his brothers rushed to finish their houses so they could play. The third pig built his house of brick. His efforts were rewarded when the wolf was unable to blow his house down and thus his life was spared.
Hearing this story as a child, it never once occurred to me to sneer, “That didn’t really happen! How could a pig build a house? And how can a wolf blow that much air? Wolves don’t have very big lungs, and they can’t form a circle with their mouths. Obviously, this story is a lie!!”
No, I never said any of those things. Nor do I ever remember even thinking them because I could easily translate the story to a message that hard work pays off through my human gift of imagination. “Got it, Dad. Thanks for putting the lesson into an enjoyable story, a story that demonstrates the virtue of hard work and dedication.” Enough said.
Many things in today’s world are all too ‘real’ and ‘true.’ We should allow ourselves to enjoy a heart-warming story, and maybe even learn a little about virtue from that story, without grumbling about whether every word (or any of them) are ‘true.’
As writers, we often rely heavily on our imagination. We hope the world of people who might become our readers hasn’t lost theirs.
It’s the Movies
A few years ago, when I was actively engaged in writing novels and also providing consulting services, I was approached by the producer of an upcoming movie. He wanted me to review the script and advise of any procedures which didn’t seem correct.
I read through the script and found several procedural and factual errors. But when I issued a report detailing those errors, the producer thanked me but said, “you have to remember – this is the movies. We have to make changes for dramatic effect.”
As I was writing this article, I became aware of a story in the New York Times that was on point. People at the National Transportation Safety Board, the group responsible for aircraft accident investigation, were reportedly unhappy with the way they were portrayed in the movie Sully. The movie dealt with the emergency landing of US Air Flight 1549 in the Hudson River.
As the article reported, “That’s not how it happened has become a routine response in recent years to movies based on real events, but in this case, the protest is by officials of a federal agency — the National Transportation Safety Board — who have a public record to buttress their side of the debate.”
But, while the officials’ argument may have been valid, we all know that even documentaries may take some license with the “facts.” It’s the nature of story-telling.
It’s the nature of imagination.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Let me know in the comments below.