What is the use of stories that aren’t even true?

What IS the use of stories that aren’t even true?

The oft-asked question in Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories is, “What is the use of stories that aren’t even true?”

While Rushdie’s book is described as an example of a more comical and light subdivision of the fantasy genre, each form of fantasy contains within it a variety of aspects that resonate within additional fantastical categories. Rushdie’s question can be applied to and answered through any genre of fantasy.

There is truth in every fictional story, and the uses of fictional stories, while dependent to some extent upon author intent and reader response, are, in fact, infinite.

If fictional stories had no use, why would anyone write fiction or fantasy? 

Storytellers may not be aware of their subtexts, attitudes, or perspectives about the purpose or benefit of their words and stories, but that does not mean they are not present.  While ideas about use may vary and differ, each author must believe that their storytelling will be put to some use or another.  These uses are often subjective, multifaceted, and numerous.  Just as an author may communicate many different ideas, meanings, and uses, readers may also interpret or superimpose many different ideas, meanings, and uses.  C.S. Lewis communicated tenants of Christian theology through many of his works, but he also reiterated the use of fantasy as a way for readers to address real-life issues, through a fantasy world to explore “emotional dilemmas (they) feel faced by in their everyday lives” (Rustin, 1987, p. 40).  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is clearly representative of the important use of fantasy as a tool to address cultural, societal, emotional, and psychological needs, understanding, and development – a prevalent perspective about fantasy’s value and use.

The primary, overarching importance of the use of children’s fantasy literature is the idea that the genre addresses and fulfills vital “psychological, cultural and aesthetic needs which are disregarded by most other forms of contemporary literature” (Oziewicz, 2008, p. 66). 

Fantasy allows the fears and worries of society to be addressed and explored, as well as providing a great deal of “potential as an emotional survival strategy” (Bharat, 2015, p. 305).  In addition, “stories can be a cohesive force in constructing a community” (Mukherjee, 1998, p. 175), a force that allows communities to overcome obstacles and experience positive growth and development.  Lloyd Alexander’s “The Grammar of Story” emphasizes this importance by detailing the ways in which words and storytelling can work magic.  Rushdie’s narrative in Haroun and the Sea of Stories provides valuable political and cultural implications about the intrinsic value and power of words and stories. This is just one narrative that articulates the importance of stories and storytelling and the ways in which they can be applied to resisting terror and oppression by conquering fears through living life instead of through grand, cosmic acts of courage.

Through the creation of a fantasy narrative such as this, an author can invent their own logic and use and incorporated it into each aspect of the story, so it has a sturdy base: “We don’t dig the foundation after the house is built” (Alexander, 1981, p. 10), and the fantasy world must have “identifiable and workable laws underpinning it” (Yolen, 1996, p. 173).  While each work of fantasy is unique, they are all bonded by their structure and interconnected in their capacity to encourage imaginative exploration and address very real concepts, dilemmas, and threats, such as the “tyranny of fear” (Bharat, 2015, p. 304).  New fears are constantly arising, and all types of fantasy literature can help to confront and explore these fears through large societal battles of terrorism and oppression as well as smaller, but no less important, battles of personal conflict, growth, and development.

Conflict is the dynamic element of any story, and the fate of the world can be affected by cosmic, mythopoeic quest and conflict as well as by the conflict-response behavior of a single person, as revealed through interactions with themselves, others, and the world around them.

While each fantasy story may be categorized according to a general consensus of its overall purpose, use, or tone, each fantasy story is an amalgam of diverse components that draw on a variety of ideas about the truth of untrue stories.  “What is the use of stories that aren’t even true?”  The use of Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories is to answer this very question, and in many ways, this is the use of every work of fantasy literature.  Storytellers create illusions, and the truth in that illusion is “how thoroughly it convinces us of its reality; how strongly it resonates in our emotions; how deeply it moves us to new feelings and new insights.” (Alexander, 1981, p. 4).

Truth is not always convincing, and a fantasy story can help a reader to recognize and understand the truth in the world around them.

‘Untrue’ fantasy stories are incredibly valuable in an infinite number of ways.  Each fantasy genre, and each fantasy story, has unique and distinctive qualities.  In mythopoeic fantasy, adventure has momentous scale and consequences. However, while lighter fantasy genres may seem to lack cosmic battles of good versus evil, the adventures and battles still have consequences that are momentous to the characters experiencing them.

While mythopoeic fantasy suggests big answers to big questions, small answers to small questions are just as substantially cosmic to those affected by them.

A child can have an adult adventure that articulates hope for all humanity by the simple act of articulating the hope of one human. 

One human is a part of humanity, and the truth is that one child can change the world.


Alexander, Lloyd. (1981). The grammar of story. In Betsy Hearne and Marilyn Kaye (Eds), Celebrating children’s books: Essays on children’s literature in honor of Zena Sutherland. (pp. 3-13). New York: Lothrop, Lee, and Shepard Books.

Bharat, Meenakshi. (2015). Creative fear in Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and Luka: The ‘safe house’ of children’s literature. In Marvels & tales. (pp. 304-323).

Lewis, C.S. (1950). The lion, the witch, and the wardrobe. New York: Harper Collins.

Mukherjee, Meenakshi. (1998). Politics and children’s literature: a Reading of Haroun and the Sea of Stories. In Ariel: a Review of international English literature. (pp. 163-177).

Oziewicz, Marek. (2008). One earth, one people: The Mythopoeic fantasy series of Ursula K. Le Guin, Lloyd Alexander, Madeline L’Engle, and Orson Scott Card. New York: Simon Pulse.

Rowling, J.K. (1999). Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic.

Rushdie, Salman. (1990). Haroun and the sea of stories. New York: Penguin.

Rustin, Margaret and Michael. (1987). Narnia: an Imaginary land as container for moral and emotional adventure. In Narratives of love and loss: Studies in modern children’s fiction. (pp. 40-58). New York: Verso.

Strimel, Courtney B. (2004). The politics of terror: Rereading Harry Potter,” In Children’s literature in education. (pp. 35-52).

Yolen, Jane. (1996). Turtles all the way down. In Sheila Egoff et al. (Eds) Only connect: Readings on children’s literature. (pp. 164-174). New York: Oxford University Press.

Identity, Assumptions, and Hope – OH MY!

Identity, Assumptions, and Hope – OH MY!

One of the papers for my fantasy literature class detailing the ways fantasy can offer new perspectives, help people cope with trauma and problems, and encourage critical thinking.

A common thread found in fantasy literature is the transposition of societal issues into fantastical forms to use perspective to better comprehend and process these issues. This transposition distances the reader from reality and abstracts the issues, allowing them to be more easily explained and understood through metaphorical connections.  Contentious and significant issues such as racism, classism, terrorism, power, identity, discrimination and stereotypes can often be explored through fantasy literature parallels and reflections.  Critical thinking concepts and overarching values of humanity can also be presented and investigated to great effect though fantasy. There is no end to the range of societal issues fantasy literature can introduce and examine to reach beneficial comprehension and valuable meaning.

Fantasy is so valuable because it “invokes the possibility of living under different terms and conditions” (Whitley, 2000, p. 175), and “can engage seriously with key issues within contemporary culture” (Whitley, 2000, p. 182).  J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Nancy Farmer’s the House of the Scorpion are both excellent examples of demonstrating engagement with key contemporary cultural issues through living under different conditions.  Each book presents a narrative that challenges basic assumptions about identity, ambiguity, and power dynamics as well as encourages that the reader think more critically about and observe more carefully the interactions and interpretations around them.

Mistaken assumptions or interpretations and engrained stereotypes are present in each of these fantasy books.  In the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry is told that Sirius Black is evil and wants him dead, and he believes it is the truth.  He hears this well-established interpretation from people he trusts and people in power, and they are all wrong.  Assumptions were made and cemented, which led to a flawed communal perception. This radical example of the promotion of misinformation encourages the reader to ask questions and think more critically. An information source may purposefully and knowingly promote a false perception, but a source may just be ignorant of the truth.  Even if a source is trusted, the truth may be vastly different from society’s common perception.

Society’s common perception in Nancy Farmer’s book is one that clones are unintelligent beasts.  Certain viewpoints are taught about clones and identity that are false.  Matt proves many assumptions wrong when he meets people who hold the entrenched negative opinions regarding clones.  His characteristics are inconsistent with their pre-conceived assumptions.  Those in power actively choose to spread these assumptions about clones to take advantage of them.  In Rowling’s book, there are also people in power who knowingly endorse fictitious or deceptive explanations to their own benefit.

Such conscious misinformation emphasizes the inherent ambiguity within the nature of humanity, which becomes tangled and complex in both books.  The characters are often ambiguous and contradictory within both their true and their perceived identities.  The identity can be a fragile thing.  It can be shaped by, or discovered by observing negative assumptions and prejudices.  Matt’s identity was shaped by the negative limited perspectives to which he had access.  Because of the marginalization he experiences, his perspectives are impacted. Being a clone in his world is to be inferior and unclean.  In Harry Potter’s world, some believe that being a muggle, or muggle-born is to be inferior and unclean.  However, appearances can be deceiving, and appearance doesn’t always mean physical appearance, it can also mean identity or perceived identity. Hermione is harassed for her muggle-born status, Hagrid is discriminated against for being a half-giant with a (wrongful) criminal record, and Remus Lupin is treated with unfair prejudice and disgust for being a werewolf.  Humanity is not always simple, nor is it always reflective of outward appearance or commonly-held beliefs about identities.  Rowling’s books force children “to consider characterizations of goodness and badness” (Strimel, 2004, p. 45), and the consequences and implications of these characterizations.  The ambiguity inherent in the characterizations presents another opportunity to think critically about people and events, both real, and imaginary.

In each of these books, the impact of the fantastical transposition is amplified due to solid foundations in real issues. Fantasy literature needs to have substantiality to be most effective in exploring society’s problems and possibilities.  The wish-fulfilment that fantasy literature offers “needs to be grounded in something substantial if it is to become fully satisfying” (Whitley, 2000, p. 175). Farmer bases her story on circumstances and prejudices that already exist between differing peoples, and scientific advances that are already happening.  Science fiction such as this presents a unique opportunity to explore the ramifications of future societal issues and problems.  By looking to the hypothetical potential good and bad of the future, it is helpful to “open our minds to all possibilities” (Greenfield, 2003, p. 9).  Rowling also presents a wide range of hypothetical situations and possibilities, as well as utilizes widespread prejudice in which to base her world. In addition, her fantasy is grounded in reality through common mythological, religious, and cultural viewpoints and archetypes that are relatable and familiar.

From terrorism to depression, from identity to religion, fantasy is constantly offering new perspectives and the hope to overcome the perpetration of harmful perspectives, opinions, and stereotypes.  Both Rowling’s and Farmer’s fantasy books emphasize the misleading potential of a limited viewpoint.  Hope exists, and with a little knowledge, creativity, and guidance, perhaps fantasy literature can help lead society into tolerance, acceptance, and open-mindedness.


Cohen, Signe. (2016). A postmodern wizard: The religious bricolage of the Harry Potter series In Journal of religion and popular culture.  (pp. 54-66).

Crew, Hilary S. (2004). Not so brave a world: The representation of human cloning in science fiction for young adults, In The lion and the unicorn. (pp. 203-221.)

Farmer, Nancy. (2004). The house of the scorpion. New York: Simon Pulse.

Greenfield, Susan. (2003). The future: What is the problem? In Tomorrow’s people: How 21st century technology is changing the way we think and feel. (pp. 1-9). London: Allen Lane.

Rowling, J.K. (1999). Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic.

Strimel, Courtney B. (2004). The politics of terror: Rereading Harry Potter,” In Children’s literature in education. (pp. 35-52).

Whitley, D. (2000). Fantasy narratives and growing up. In Eve Bearne and Victor Watson (Eds), Where texts and children meet. (pp. 172-182.) New York: Routledge Press.

Yolen, Jane. (1996). Turtles all the way down.” In Sheila Egoff et al. (Eds) Only connect: Readings on children’s literature. (pp. 164-174). New York: Oxford University Press.

What to Watch When You’re Depressed. (Or Just Sad):

Sometimes when you’re depressed, all you can do is sit there.  Moving is just. too. hard.  Well, while you’re sitting there, maybe watching something on the telly will distract you somewhat from your misery.  It’s worth a try, right?

Here are my recommendations:

Most importantly: Watch movies that you love or used to love.  Bring back that lovin’ feeling.

My personal happy/helpful movies:

  • Lord of the Rings “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

    • I really, strongly identify with these movies (and books). Ordinary, non-conventional heroes (THAT’S ME!) have to do all this impossible-seeming stuff, go on a long, difficult, draining, physically and psychologically exhausting journey to a dark and horrible place. But there is a support network. And all they come back in some way or another. It is possible!  If they can do it, maybe so can I? Maybe?
    • “There and back again” – I have a framed print that says this that hangs in my room reminding me that, like Frodo and Sam, I CAN make it to Mt. Doom. And then I can even make it back home. Things will be different, but the quest to vanquish the evil thing that has taken me over does have an end.  This is where I got the name for this blog.
    • “There is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.” ‘Nuff said.
    • BONUS: It’s really long, so if you feel like you can’t get up off the couch for a long period of time, that’s fine . . . you’re just having a movie marathon experience. Not moving turns into something you are doing on purpose to immerse yourself in the story, yeah, that’s it!
  • Into the Woods – “The prettier the flower, the farther from the path.”

    • Basically a giant metaphor for going through dark, scary, uncertain times and getting through it. “Everything you learn there will help when you return there.”
    • Also, freaking hilarious. How did Stephen Sondheim create such a roller coaster of emotions!?  I’m laughing out loud, then sobbing hysterically.  And it’s all relevant on so many different levels.
    • “Into the woods,
      It’s time to go,
      It may be all
      In vain, you/I know.
      Into the woods-
      But even so,
      I have to take the journey.
      Into the woods,
      Without delay,
      But careful not
      To lose the way.
      Into the woods,
      Who knows what may
      Be lurking on the journey?
      Into the woods
      To get the thing
      That makes it worth
      The journeying.”
    • Remember, NO ONE IS ALONE:
  • Howl’s Moving Castle – “They say that the best blaze burns brightest when circumstances are at their worst.”

    • What do you do when you’re suddenly different than you used to be? Are you trapped in a seemingly unsolvable or frustrating situation?  Do you feel like you’re weird and different and don’t fit in?  Need a change in environment and/or scenery? Do you feel out of sync with your identity and/or appearance?  Does your outside not match your inside?
  • Pride and Prejudice/Sense and Sensibility – any version – “Completely and perfectly and incandescently happy.”

    • Just take me away from this time and place where everything is horrible and bring me to the land of gentle pastels, sweeping gowns, long walks in the rain, and refined, yet sassy characters. Give me some sweet distance with a side of silliness, where the problems of the heroines are poignantly real and relatable even though they’re totally not relatable.
  • Silver Linings Playbook – “I like that. Just like all the other parts of myself.”

    • Hey, look – a movie about mental illness that isn’t dumb/condescending/a caricature. It’s real and many people struggle with it. It’s accurate, normalizing and relatable.

Whatever you watched as a child/young adult is often a good choice, because it can transport you back to a time when you were happier and not as worried.

  • Harry Potter – “Don’t let the muggles get you down.”

  • Mulan, Tangled, Anastasia, (and other Disney/animated features) – “A single grain of rice can tip the scale. One man may be the difference between victory and defeat.”

    • Again, brings you back to a simpler, happier place. Let’s get down to business… (you can finish the rest).
    • Be careful with your selections though. Maybe fast forward through that Lion King stampede scene?  And any time any characters parents die, really, which, let’s face it, is ALL THE FREAKING TIME (if they’re not dead already).

My happy/helpful T.V. shows:

  • BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER – “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.”

    • Only have time for one episode? WATCH THE MUSICAL!  Season 6, episode 7: “Once More, With Feeling.”  “I touch the fire and it freezes me.  I look into it and it’s black. Why can’t I feel? My skin should crack and peel.  I want the fire back!”  Tell me that’s not about depression.
    • Only have time for one scene? THIS ONE:
      • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmLSjwam26E
      • “Every single night, the same arrangement,
        I go out and fight the fight. 
        Still I always feel this strange estrangement, 
        Nothing here is real, nothing here is right.
        …Will I stay this way forever?
        Sleepwalk through my life’s endeavor?
        …I don’t want to be
        Going through the motions,
        Losing all my drive.
        I can’t even see,
        If this is really me,
        And I just wanna be alive.”
  • Better Off Ted – “I wish I had the power to make everyone go away.”

    • So delightfully and ridiculously funny – Thank you, Netflix!
  • Parks and Recreation – “Everything hurts and I’m dying.” “I’m fine. It’ just that life is pointless and nothing matters and I’m always tired.” “I don’t want to do things.  I want to NOT do things.” “Sometimes you gotta work a little, so you can ball a lot.” “Treat yo’ self.” “Never half-ass two things.  Whole-ass one thing.”  “My whole life is a giant mess and I love it.”

    • Every single episode is funny. It’s optimistic but realistic.  I feel like I relate to almost EVERY character. Perfect for extracting a laugh when you didn’t know you even had one left in there.  Short and sweet and easy to fit into your schedule.

*A note about sad movie-watching – I recommend mostly happy movies, but an occasional sad movie can be cleansing and helpful in its own way.  For example – if you feel guilt or shame about crying about your own problems, it can be a way to channel those tears so they can be expressed and not built up.  Try more gentle tear-jerkers like “Titanic” rather than THERE IS NO BRIGHT SPOT ANYWHERE movies like “Schindler’s List.”