Some people look down on fiction, and consider it a waste of time. They boast that they only read nonfiction– true facts that you can depend on. And they have a point. If you read a fictionalized account of a Civil War battle, you can’t take it as gospel that Grant really said this, or Lee really did that.
But chances are, you’ll end up with a better understanding of the forces that drove Grant and Lee from reading Shaar’s Killer Angels than from reading Macpherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom.
Still, it’s true that you can’t necessarily trust the facts you read in fiction. Chances are, somebody made them up to serve the story. There is no Yellow Brick Road to Oz, and Mr. Toad never drove an automobile. There was never a Catherine or a Heathcliff, and Mr. Darcy never proposed to Elizabeth Bennett. In fact, sadly, that paragon of enlightened manhood never existed.
But there really is “no place like home,” and Mr. Toad’s vanity and foolishness helps us see our own follies and foibles in a new light. You can state the same ideas as fact:
There’s no place like home. Pride goeth before a fall.
But those statements fall flat. Without the power of story behind them, they’re just platitudes.
In a story, we feel a character’s elation, and their pain. We truly understand their moral dilemmas and the sacrifices their good deeds and tough decisions entail. We find the truth through empathy with the characters.
You can’t trust the facts you learn in fiction. But while the distance of history and the dispassion of journalism can mask the human elation and tragedy of a historical moment, fiction uncovers the emotional truth.