Fiction and understanding

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Fiction and understanding

Post by Enail on Sat Mar 26, 2016 5:28 pm

It occurred to me a while back that, for all the people who have the best and most intuitive understanding of me, who I can count on to get what I mean without having to explain, the thing they have in common is having grown up reading the same pool of classic children's fantasy books I did. I don't think I'm the only one whose values are heavily based on or inspired by fiction, or who relies on it for shorthands of meaning or identity, so I always find it interesting to know what works of fiction play that role for other people, and I thought it would make a fun discussion topic.

If someone wanted to understand you, what one work of fiction would you tell them to read/watch/play/etc?

Mine would be Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, or if I had to pick just one book of it, probably Taran Wanderer (though I think it kind of needs the whole series to rest on).

Extra recommended reading for if they really wanted to understand me: Other kids' fantasy books, especially The Dark is Rising, the Westmark Trilogy, Narnia and LOTR. Hamlet. Shoujo Kakumei Utena. I'm 95% sure there's at least one other big one in there I'm forgetting...
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Re: Fiction and understanding

Post by Werel on Sat Mar 26, 2016 10:00 pm

Enail, this thread idea is so interesting that it just sparked like a 40-minute discussion at my house. Grin

Verdict: VERY HARD CHOICE.

I eventually settled on Kirsten Bakis' novel Lives of the Monster Dogs, which I first read in 8th grade and which feels more like the places I go in dreams than anything I've ever read. It's not a masterwork, but it hits me the same way in the guts every time I go back to it. I think if somebody wanted to get me emotionally, at least the core of me that's remained constant since I was a kid, that's the book.

Buuuuut what you said about using fiction as shorthand for meaning and identity makes me want to pick Berserk (if a whole manga series can be "a fiction"). That series has provided the shorthand to discuss all kinds of choices and feelings and inescapable realities between me and the 3-4 people I'm closest to, and between Casca and Farnese (and maybe Ubik Uh-oh) I feel like big parts of me are represented very skillfully in there.


Last edited by Werel on Sun May 01, 2016 8:39 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : nah)
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Re: Fiction and understanding

Post by bomaye on Sat Mar 26, 2016 10:44 pm

Boku Dake anime. Shows both how I wish the world was, and what I think the world is.
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Re: Fiction and understanding

Post by Andrew Corvero on Sun Mar 27, 2016 6:09 am

What a great question!

What comes to mind whenever I think about the foundation of my ethics are always Terry Pratchett quotes:

They called themselves the Munrungs. It meant The People, or The True Human Beings. It's what most people call themselves, to begin with. And then one day the tribe meets some other people and give them a name like The Other People or, if it's not been a good day, The Enemy. If only they'd think up a name like Some More True Human Beings, it'd save a lot of trouble later on.

(the intro of The Carpet People)

one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I'm sure you'll agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged onto a half submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters, who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature's wonders, gentlemen. Mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that is when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior

(Vetinari's speech in Unseen Academicals)

He'd noticed that sex bore some resemblance to cookery: it fascinated people, they sometimes bought books full of complicated recipes and interesting pictures, and sometimes when they were really hungry they created vast banquets in their imagination - but at the end of the day they'd settle quite happily for egg and chips. If it was well done and maybe had a slice of tomato.

(The Fifth Elephant)

You can't go around building a better world for people. Only people can build a better world for people. Otherwise it's just a cage

(Witches Abroad)

Shoot the dictator and prevent the war? But the dictator is merely the tip of the whole festering boil of social pus from which dictators emerge; shoot one, and there'll be another one along in a minute? Shoot him too? Why not shoot everyone and invade Poland?

(Lords and Ladies)

It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was Us, what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things.

(Jingo)

I'm a huge Pterry fan. I just love how insightful his thoughts are while he keeps them easy to understand and infuses them with some much-needed humanizing humor. This is how I try to live my life: by trying to understand myself, to understand people, to see that deep down we're all motivated by the same reasons, to realize my limits, which are the limits of human nature, and to try and improve myself while I keep in mind that I'm not perfect (because nobody is, and neither is the universe).

And also to keep it simple and fun because life is painful and complicated enough.

Recently I've also caught myself mentally quoting Rich Burlew's The Order of the Stick:

People don't just change who they are in an instant. It takes time, so you don't even know you're changing. Until one day you'll just a little bit different than you used to be and you can't even tell what the hell happened

(Belkar Bitterleaf, of all people. Which shows that even murderous psychopathic halflings can have a point)

Emotions are tricky. You can't really separate the ones you want from the ones you don't

(true for humans and reanimated flesh golems!)

A good way to get a decent person to do something horrible is to convince them that they're not responsible for their actions.

(And arch-demons can be a good source of advice, too)

When you're dead, you're never going to look back and say, "Darn, I didn't spend enough time on petty revenge."

(true even before you die)

Again, this is along the same lines: something insightful, and emotionally powerful, but also infused with some benevolent humor which isn't condescending.

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Re: Fiction and understanding

Post by Andrew Corvero on Sun Mar 27, 2016 6:25 am

Oh, and The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, for the exact same reasons:

This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.

“We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!”

“All through my life I've had this strange unaccountable feeling that something was going on in the world, something big, even sinister, and no one would tell me what it was."
"No," said the old man, "that's just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the Universe has that.”


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Re: Fiction and understanding

Post by waxingjaney on Sun Mar 27, 2016 8:25 am

Enail wrote:I don't think I'm the only one whose values are heavily based on or inspired by fiction, or who relies on it for shorthands of meaning or identity...
Huh. I don't do that at all.
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Re: Fiction and understanding

Post by Enail on Sun Mar 27, 2016 11:15 am

Oh, interesting, WaxingJaney. Do you tend to like fiction, you just don't use it as a life reference, or are you more into non-fiction/other things in life?

Andrew, your quotes kind of make me want to read Terry Pratchett! (I have a probably irrational resistance to reading him)
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Re: Fiction and understanding

Post by waxingjaney on Sun Mar 27, 2016 11:44 am

The first one.
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Re: Fiction and understanding

Post by Andrew Corvero on Sun Mar 27, 2016 2:59 pm

Enail wrote:Andrew, your quotes kind of make me want to read Terry Pratchett! (I have a probably irrational resistance to reading him)

If you have time and really want to get into it, I'd suggest that you start with The Carpet People. It's short, a standalone piece and a very funny (and insightful) parody of all the classic fantasy/adventure tropes. It was my favorite book as a child.

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Re: Fiction and understanding

Post by Sahrimnir on Sat Nov 12, 2016 12:51 pm

My values have definitely been influenced by fiction. However, choosing only one work of fiction to help people understand me would probably be impossible.
I've always enjoyed superhero comics and other stories of selfless heroes helping people simply out of the goodness of their hearts.
I also think X-Men and Harry Potter have had quite an effect on my views on social justice.
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