Making sense of the world

When you start to read a book for the first time, it can take a while to orient yourself in a new fictional world. You need to work out the rules and patterns of this imagined universe. What time period are we in? Can animals talk? We search for clues and for links to the world we know – how familiar is this fantasy to our own experience?

I am particularly fussy about my fantasy worlds; I can’t buy a story that couldn’t be real. I’m not holding every work of fiction up to the standard of the laws of physics, just its plausibility to be real, even if we have never seen the like.

I just want to mention three of my personal fictional favourites – all of which pass the test, in my book (sorry).

Harry Potter is totally plausible, because this magical life bursts suddenly upon an 11-year-old boy who has been living completely in the dark about it all. It’s plausible that, if Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic and the rest of it existed, it could be hidden from us Muggles. So, I buy it. (And, like many others who grew up reading of Harry’s adventures, I secretly hope that my Hogwarts letter just got lost in the post.)

The Hunger Games? Plausible, but only because it is set in the future. Were it claiming to be set in the present or the past, there is no loophole that would allow it to be true and yet hidden from the rest of the world. The future, however, is a whole different ball game – perhaps we are not so far from sending our kids to fight in an arena for the sins of their fathers as we’d like to think.

The Chronicles of Narnia? Definitely. Again, set initially in our world, with a few portals (rings, a wardrobe, a painting) that transport the characters into another world that they find just as unbelievable as we would.

I do complain about the odd thing, however, that stands in the way of a story’s plausibility. Take The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. All fine, kids evacuated during the war unintentionally enter a magical land in which animals can talk and witches can make winter eternal. Fair enough. But why on earth does Mrs Beaver have a sewing machine? What on earth does she find to sew all day long? It’s not like she wears clothes, and once you’ve made curtains for all the windows in your dam-house, what else is there? It’s just not realistic.

You might think my logic is cracked. It’s almost certainly applied inconsistently. You might have your own system for vetting fictional worlds (or you might not worry too much about it – as you were).

But in seriousness, this is what we are doing when we work out our responses to the events and circumstances of our lives. All of us are trying to make sense of the world around us, through whatever lenses we choose to view it. We need a system by which to interpret life and to deal with its mess and inconsistencies. Our framework needs to be built to stand the test of life in all its shades.

When life is hard, I remember the words of St Paul urging me to look ahead to a future glory: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I am forever grateful for God’s totally undeserved kindness towards me, and I choose to base my worldview on God’s word and his promises.

Along the way, however, I am more than happy to be entertained by reading make-believe stories. As long as they’re believable.

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