From Pride and Prejudice to The Hunger Games: The Importance of Fiction

by: Stephanie Roush

August 30, 2012

In the latest of the TED talk series, Jessica Wise presents a short animated feature on the power of fiction to influence reality. While often arguments about movies, books and television influencing a society’s perspective end up seeming repetitive and obvious, Miss Wise refines this popular topic in an accessible, yet informed, manner.

TED ED literature

A book’s success hinges on its ability to transport the reader to a new land or place almost effortlessly, and encourage the reader to see the world from a new perspective. Classic novels like Pride and Prejudice and Great Expectations, or even Harry Potter, provide their readers with a new perspective, or in the case of Miss Rowling’s novel, a new world.

Under the guise of fiction, books can present radical ideas or views in a publicly acceptable way, and historically the authors bold enough to do so have greatly influenced societal norms. Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela, published in 1740, was one of the first books to accomplish such a task. The book was so widely popular in England that often towns would gather together in the evenings for a group reading. An anecdote often told at the time was that in one English village the villagers were so pleased with the ending that they rung the church’s bells.

Although published hundreds of years ago, Pamela elicited a response not unlike that of more modern works like Twilight or The Hunger Games. While some intellectuals might snub a work like Stephanie Meyer’s vampire novel, Twilight gained such popularity that writing it off seems ignorant. It’s a timeless story of star-crossed lovers and its level of popularity, albeit within a certain demographic, tells us something about our society. I’ve often heard professors say that Shakespeare’s reign in the literary world isn’t due to his supreme talent as a poet or as a playwright, but rather his ability to tell the stories that people want to hear.

While Jessica Wise’s TED talk doesn’t reveal anything particularly revolutionary about fiction, it does remind us of the profound impact fiction has on our lives.  Experience will always remain the world’s greatest educator, yet fiction’s unique ability to teach us both about the world and ourselves will continue to preserve its sacred place in our culture.

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