Monday, October 14, 2013

Is Fiction Real?

This might be something avid readers were asked on one occasion or more. Ever since I made it pretty evident I prefer reading in those interstices between classes in college, and during traveling, even with friends (because then apart from a few minutes at bedtime, there's just no time :/ ), people have noticed how often my nose's stuck in a book. And those books are almost always in the genre of Fiction (unless it's a college reading or a non-fiction review book). It wasn't long before people started asking why I prefer Fiction, after bluntly stating that they always prefer non-fiction for knowledge and don't want to waste time with stories. Mind you, these are people doing a Masters in Business Administration, most of them uninterested in stories per se, so I don't mind answering them back. Besides, someone has to tell them, or at least try to put forward their own awesome views, something that challenges their way of thinking. 

A couple of weeks ago in a relatively boring class, a classmate-friend passed me a sheet of paper with the same question. She was curious. She wanted to read, but she was also clouded with this pre-conceived notion that Fiction isn't useful, it's just made-up stories and not real. Her question was genuine. I wrote back a reply to her, making it as short and concise as possible, trying to fully justify the short answer. Here's a snapshot of our little 'passing-of-notes-conversation':

Please bear with the handwriting :P
Also, there's a little bit of Hindi in the question and
first line of the answer.

What I believe in, and I'm sure Fiction readers would agree, is the simple fact that 'Fiction' is just a name for something that doesn't exist as a whole in real life. The whole story may not be real, but we do know writers are amazing observers, right? What we read about in stories has some inkling to reality. The characterization of the characters, the setting, if not real, it might be built upon something that exists. The messages they convey, the relationships they show, the meanings they imply, they're all real. They also have facts spread in between. 

Among the lines I wrote in this note, were these: "The only difference is that in Fiction, you learn things in an implied manner, depending upon your perception. Non-fiction gives you straight facts. I've started reading non-fiction too, because yes it is interesting, but fiction is far more interesting, mostly because it gives you perspective and understanding".

Really. You understand. People. Behaviour. Maybe you'd know about the life of a kind of person who's totally the opposite of how you are, of people living with diseases, of people losing their loved ones, of people on the other side of the planet. Doesn't it tell you so much more than non-fiction? I won't start comparing the two because it is not the subject of this post, but I have to give my view. Fiction makes you see many realities and you do it on your own. It's not in-your-face. It's up to you how you understand it, how you interpret it. This classmate-friend later in the day met another girl who's an avid fiction reader and asked the same question. She agreed with what I'd said and also added, "fiction completely shows you things the way one person (the author) imagined them". Isn't that an amazing observation? :D I'm going to add this to my fiction-is-real supporting argument! ;)

What do you think? Were you ever confronted with this dilemma? Or this question? :)

PS- The best thing about reading is that it inspires. It totally makes other people want to read for themselves, especially if they see you engrossed in a book, lost and enjoying it! The genuine, secure-about-themselves people might even tell you they feel like reading because of you, or that they have read a book they loved, because of you, because they saw you and felt the desire to do the same. It feels just amazing when you get to know that! This blog has given me this kind of a feel so many times. I love the observed fact that one person can spread this love, or at least a curiosity and interest to people around them. There's nothing better one could do, right? :D

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Classic Talk # 3: Little Lord Fauntleroy

F.H. Burnett
This children’s classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett, published in 1886, is a very simple, beautiful story of Cedric (“Ceddie”), a seven year old boy living a simple life with his mother in New York. His father was the youngest son of the Earl of Dorincourt in England, with whom the Earl broke all ties because he married a ‘local’ American woman, a very sweet young girl (called Mrs. Errol, after ‘Captain Errol’, her husband). Captain Errol died when he was very small, leaving behind Mrs. Errol deeply loving and caring for Ceddie. Cedric is what you’d say, the ideal child. He’s beautiful, with bright eyes and golden locks, his manner of speaking honey-sugary, his questions and comments deeply innocent and sweet. From how the book describes him, you’d think there wasn’t a finer boy anywhere!

“His greatest charm was his cheerful fearless, quaint little way of making friends with people. I think it arose from having a very confiding nature, and a kind little heart that sympathised with everyone, and wished to make everyone as comfortable as he liked to be himself. It made him very quick to understand the feelings of those about him.”

And these are just a few lines in the initial chapters. The book’s full of this charm. One evening as Ceddie sat on a high stool with Mr. Hobbs, the grocer, discussing politics, he’s called home by Mary, the caretaker because they had an important visitor. Mr. Havisham, a lawyer sent by the Earl at Dorincourt wished to send for Cedric to stay at the castle, since his sons had died and Cedric was the heir. This change is immense for Mrs. Errol and Cedric, especially as the Earl hates Mrs. Errol so much that he made arrangements for her to stay at a small house outside the castle. The book deals with this change, how a little boy with a kind, innocent heart full of love and affection perceives the world around him. It’s a beautifully narrated story, showing how a well-bred child can make the world such a better place.

Cedric is now Lord Fauntleroy, the grandson of the Earl of Dorincourt. Before leaving for England, Fauntleroy helps his friends get out of financial troubles, what with all the money he’s now inherited. He’s saddened by the fact that he wouldn’t be living with Dearest (he calls his mother ‘Dearest’, catching from how his dad used to call her that. How “aww” :’) ), but Mrs. Errol manages to make him understand in the gentlest way possible. They still meet every evening. The Earl is a hard-hearted, selfish man. People in his ‘kingdom’ are aware of his selfish, uncaring nature. He never loved his sons, especially the older two, who were totally spoiled, although he was somewhat fond of Captain Errol before he married the ‘local’ American woman.

Fauntleroy thinks highly of the Earl because a grandfather who gives him the freedom to do what he likes, and hence helps people who need money to fix their lives, would have to be someone with a great, kind heart. When they first meet, the Earl’s secretly pleased with the boy’s beauty and he’s surprised that the boy isn’t afraid of him. He’s even more surprised when he realizes that Fauntleroy is the only person who ever thought of him as a kind man. It doesn’t take long for him to grow fond of the boy and gradually as he lets Fauntleroy charm him with his innocent, pleasant thoughts, the people of Dorincourt also see a change in the Earl. There’s more happiness all around as people are taken out of poverty, small kind gestures are often seen and things get so much better. Soon, the Earl gets on friendly terms with Dearest as well and it’s a charming end to an incredibly sweet book.

I never thought I’d like such books as much as I’m doing when I first thought of including ‘reading classics’ in the 2013 Reading Goals. I realized I make awesome decisions sometimes without realizing it! It’s just ‘beautiful’ to read, written in a charming language. The themes this book covers includes the power of love, innocence, good upbringing, kindness, making a difference, love melting the hardest of hearts and the power of strong relationships. It’s amazing, really. I’ll share a few lines among the many I marked in the book. They’re just overdosing sweetness!

Spoken by Cedric: “Once, when I fell down and cut my knee, she gave me an apple for nothing. I’ve always remembered her for it. You know you always remember people who are kind to you.”

About the Earl: ‘He had been so selfish himself that he had missed the pleasure of seeing unselfishness in others, and he had not known how tender and faithful and affectionate a kind-hearted little child can be, and how innocent and unconscious are its simple, generous impulses.’

Dearest to Cedric: “Be only good dear, only be brave, only be kind and true always, and then you will never hurt anyone, so long as you live, and you may help many, and the big world may  be better because my little child was born. And that is best of all, Ceddie, it is better than everything else, that the world should be a little better because a man has lived- even ever so little better, dearest.”

‘It was really a very simple thing, after all- it was only that he had lived near a kind and gentle heart, and had been taught to think kind thoughts always and to care for others. It is a very little thing, perhaps, but it is the best thing of all. He knew nothing of earls and castles; he was quite ignorant of all grand and splendid things; but he was always lovable because he was simple and loving. To be so is like being born a king.’

A still from a movie
PS- The book’s been made into movies and there are theatrical adaptations based on this as well. I’m going to watch the 1936 movie, considered to be the best adaptation so far. :D Although, I'm apprehensive because none of the pictures of the many 'Little Lord Fauntleroy's I came across so far are anywhere close in beauty to how he was described in books. Anyhow, we know movies don't match up to books. :|  

PPS- Have you read this too? I love F.H. Burnett’s books! (Read: The Secret Garden, A Little Princess and now Little Lord Fauntleroy too!)


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