How Stories Shape the World: why good fiction matters

Remember that movie Runaway Bride? I haven’t seen it in years but I want to watch it again. There’s a scene where Julia Robert’s character realizes she doesn’t know how she likes her eggs because she’s always adopted the preference of her significant other. We should know how we like our eggs. We need to know who God made us to be.

A friend asked me a few weeks ago what my favorite movie genre was. My answer was swift. Action. I love action movies. I elaborated on my answer because that’s what I do. I love stories of danger and heroism. I love epic tales of adventure and daring. This is how I look at life.

I envision life as a battle. I’m not just training my children to help others and not hurt them. I’m teaching them to swing a sword and a tend a wound. I’m not simply protecting their minds and hearts from evil; I’m chasing away monsters that would carry them away in the darkness. I’m not just continuing to serve God in the mundane of life; I’m living glorious adventures. I’m in a epic tale of challenge and love and the triumph of good over evil, or at least that’s what I’m hoping for. Some days it feels like I might not make it. It seems like evil may win. It feels as if I will be taken out by the enemy before I can finish my mission.

If you’re anything like me, you’re picturing scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. You’re scaling mountains to almost plunge into an abyss haunted by a monster. A startling dragon rescues you and sets you down on a large plain at the start of the valley. The tree grow dense and dark the farther you walk and sounds you can’t identify fill the forest.

Maybe this is because I’m an enneagram 8. I see life as a challenge. I welcome a challenge. It’s easier for me to rise to the occasion when I can defeat something.

But I don’t think it’s just me; I don’t even think it’s people with personalities like mine. The kinship readers have felt for Frodo Baggins over the decades identifies the need for stories that inspire us. The continued success of Pilgrim’s Progress reminds me that we all need ways to remind ourselves that we are headed home. We aren’t crossing off a string of identical days before we stop existing. We aren’t hoping to find some magic that will make our lives matter. We aren’t looking for a story that will explain the broken, twisted things about the world. We are living that story. We see the enemies. We see the danger that lies between us and the end line and yet we go anyway. We are compelled by something beyond ourselves.

I get up in the morning knowing some of the challenges that are ahead. And I know that more may come unexpectedly. I collect the flowers along the way and soak in the warmth of the sun so that I can remember them on the days when it rains so hard my feet are wet inside my boots and I think I’ll be cold forever. When I’m miserable and convinced that nothing will change, I remind myself that it always changes. It never rains forever. The sun comes back out. And if I can just keep going, if I don’t quit in that hole and leave myself there, I’ll find soft grass under my feet again.

At least for a while.

If that sounds depressing to you, you need to know that it doesn’t to me. It sounds sturdy. Invite me into a story of tea parties and shopping trips and I’m going to decline. There’s a sugar crash and the emptiness after a shopping binge waiting. But hand me a sword and some sturdy shoes and a mission worth fighting for? Issue me a challenge to fight evil without and conquer the darkness in myself and I’ll kneel before the One who sends me.

Because He’s promised the ending. He’s done the work. Sometimes I’m not sure why we are still in this particular story. Why we will all battle our way home is often a mystery. But there are people around us laying in those miserable valleys. There are people headed in the opposite direction, promised cake and credit cards, never looking at their destination. There are things inside of me that are being remade through the journey.

I know that I’ve been extended a mission that envelops today with purpose, that echoes promises in pain, that makes mountaintops sing with possibilities. As I travel, I’ll keep drawing strength from the stories that dwell in my heart. The stories of heroes and battles, determination mingled with danger, and friendship supporting the broken will keep my feet moving when I want to give up.


  1. Nadia T.

    Paragraph nine. I also like my sturdy shoes. But they do say … Women who can run in heels should be feared. Alas for any hope of intimidation that way in my own case.
    “Forward, friends. And let us take the adventure that shall fall to us. Whether we live or die, Aslan will be our good lord.”
    Prince Rilian, The Silver Chair
    “Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots. Leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver.”
    Countess Markievicz, 19th century Irish revolutionary
    I’m a Enneagram 6 and still figuring that out .
    Specifically, challenges sound good and then don’t when I realize He’s usually the only One watching. Still trying to learn that that’s kind of the point and focus back in to myself and my own ‘story’, not versions of others’. But yes … I read H.P., LOTR, Narnia and books of that sort because I love the relatable struggle, the despair, the hope, the determination, the ‘battling’.
    I like to think I could handle a bow. But Sam’s pot might be a tad more realistic.

    • This whole comment was amazing. I LOVE the quotes. With my tendency to break my ankle, I shouldn’t run in heels. But I also shouldn’t be tempted to do that either. haha But totally agree about that sort of book. They are so inspiring.

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