Learn to Believe the Little Lies, So You Can Believe in the Big Ones

Believing in lies takes practice.

December 21st is the Solstice and the official changing of the seasons. Some mark it as a religious holiday, but for everyone, it’s an undeniable astronomical event. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the Winter Solstice, for the rest of the world, it’s the Summer Solstice. It’s the shortest day of the year and the longest night — or the reverse.

Terry Pratchett, in his novel, The Hogfather, wrote a scene between his benevolent DEATH character and DEATH’s adopted granddaughter, Susan:

“HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”
YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
“So we can believe the big ones?”
YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.”

Terry Pratchett – The Hogfather

And it’s true. Justice, mercy, duty, love? They’re all things we as humans have decided exist. We’ve defined them and believe in them — as concepts, even if we don’t see them practiced as much as we’d like. Yet, none of them are needed for the cycle of life – at least at the biological level.

I write fantasy. I invent characters and plots and whole worlds, and what are they but pretty lies? I read fiction: I read fantasy, and science fiction, and romances — and none of them ever happened. None of the people are real.

So, why do we do it? Why do we read or write stories full of lies? Why has humanity always created stories?

To explore what it means to be human.

A standard piece of writing advice is to write what you know, and many people push back on that because they want to write the fantastic. But, what ends up in most stories is what the writer knows — a reflection of humanity. Stories show our fears, our dreams, our frustrations, our hopes. Some stories are cautionary tales of the dark side of humanity, and some show the height to which we can achieve when those big lies — justice, mercy, duty, and love — are embraced.

The best stories are the ones that somehow manage to capture that human experience in a way that rings true and take us along for the journey.


Which is your favorite Big Lie? One of the ones mentioned here, or something else entirely?

2 Comments

  1. #0: typo – astronomical, not astrological.

    Lies. Well, not really. A long, long time ago, I was working as a library page with a black woman around my age. She had a master’s in microbiology (not a doctorate, so she was working as a library page). One day, she asked me what I was reading all the time, and I told her “science fiction”. She looked at me and said, “Fiction, that’s like lies, right?”

    I was so shocked it took me three days to come up with an answer, one I’ve been happy with ever since: No. A lie is representing something you know to be false as true. Fiction, though it may tell truths, represents itself to be false.

    Like

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