Variation on the Word Sleep

Monday, January 31, 2005

The Power of Fiction

Started re-reading The Neverending Story yesterday having just read one of Ende's other books Momo they're both incredible. The depth of meaning and the stress on the importance of fiction, imagination, and the dangers of adulthood as defined by consumerist society is really amazing. Here's a quote from The Neverending Story. Atreyu has just found out that as the inhabitants of Fantastica (the realm of fiction and imagination) dissappear into the nothing which lack of human belief has created -- they go to the human world, but they arrive not as people or characters, but as lies. Here Gmork the werewolf explains it to him:

'If humans believe believe Fantastica doesn't exist they won't get the idea of visiting your country. And as long as they don't know you creatures of Fantastica as you really are, the Manipulators do what they like with them.'
'What can they do?'
'Whatever they please. When it comes to controlling human beings there is no better instrument than lies. Because, you see, humans live by beliefs. And beliefs can be manipulated. The power to manipulate beliefs is the only thing that counts. That's why I sided with the powerful and served them -- because I wanted to share their power.'
'I want no part in it!' Atreyu cried out.
'Take it easy, you little fool,' the werewolf growled. 'When your turn comes to jump into the Nothing, you too will be a nameless servant of power, with no will of your own. Who knows what use they will make of you? Maybe you'll help them persuade people to buy things they don't need, or hate things they know nothing about, or hold beliefs that make them easy to handle, or doubt the truths that might save them. Yes, you little Fantastican, big things will be done in the human world with your help, wars started, empires founded...'
For a time Gmork peered at the boy out of half-closed eyes. Then he added: 'The human world is full of weak-minded people, who think they're as clever as can be and are convinced that it's terribly important to persuade even the children that Fantastica doesn't exist. Maybe they will be able to make good use of you.'(my stress)

Fiction and lies are opposites -- the less we engage in storytelling and experience the possibilities for growth which come with it the more susceptable we are to lies and propaganda -- control. The book is crammed full of details such as this. At base it's about the incredible power of fiction to promote human growth. This further reminded me of a moment in A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu when Proust talks about the power of fiction. He suggests that other humans are opaque to us. We can only percieve them through our senses and so we can never really know them. When reading a novel we create the characters within us and experience them and the whole range of emotions in a compressed way:

And once the novelist has brought us to this state, in which, as in all purely mental states, every emotion is multiplied ten-fold, into which his book comes to disturb us as might a dream, but a dream more lucid and more abiding than those which come to us in sleep, why then, for the space of an hour he sets free within us all the joys and sorrows in the world, a few of which only we should have to spend years of our actual life in getting to know, and the most intense of which would never be revealed to us because the slow course of their development prevents us from percieving them.

This is the importance of fiction and imagination. Ende brings us to that state while simultaneously commenting on it's importance. Bastian the fat, bow-legged child is transformed by the power of both reading and telling stories -- the one thing that humans can do which the inhabitants of Fantastica can not is invent new stories and names for things. It is our ability to create which makes us special and yet so often we squander it. That is what Momo is about, the dangers of being caught up in the adult world: the dangers of not "wasting" time, of taking success in any form too seriously, of forgetting how to listen, and of losing sight of the beautiful gift which our time is. There's a beautiful moment when one of the Men in Gray, in an effort to seduce Momo to their way of life, shows her a beautiful robotic doll which can talk to her. She refuses it because she would rather invent games with her friends:

'What!' exclaimed the man in gray, raising his eyebrows. 'You modern children are never satisfied, honestly! Lola's perfect in every detail. If there's anything wrong with her perhaps you'd care to tell me.'
Momo stared at the ground and thought hard. Then she said, very quietly, 'I don't think anyone could love it--her, I mean.'
The man in gray didn't answer for some time. He stared into space with eyes as glassy as the doll's. At last he pulled himself together. 'That's not the point,' he said coldly.

The point according to the men in gray, who manage to seduce almost everyone to their cause, is simple:

'All that matters in life,' the man in gray went on, 'is to climb the ladder of success, amount to something, own things. When a person climbs higher than the rest, amounts to more, owns more things, everything else comes automatically: friendship, love, respect, et cetera.'

How many times a day to we hear that. The end result for those who listen to the men in grey is that they work harder and harder, and become more and more successful, but what they gain in material success they sacrifice in time. They become shells of people so lost in their work that they have no time to create, no time to connect, no time to love. In both books Ende is warning us. We must read, we must create, we must imagine, we must love -- these are the only things that really matter. Sad that they were both published in the 70s and are all but forgotten (Momo is out of print and The Neverending Story has been overwritten in the cultural milieau by a movie which evidently undermines it's very point -- Ende went so far as to sue, but lost). We could use another reminder of the power and necessity of fiction.


  • I was unaware that 'The Neverending Story' was a book, but I am amazed at the excerpt you posted. You are right, the meaning was lost in the movie, I am running to the library to check out this book. Oh, by the way, I randomly found your blog because I was looking up one of my favorite poems 'Variation on the Word Sleep'. Nice day to you,


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 12, 2005 at 8:43 PM  

  • oh, i loved momo when i was a kid. it's got to be one of my all time faves! you've got a cool taste in music and books.

    By Anonymous green, at June 14, 2005 at 3:40 AM  

  • thanks for the infomation

    By Anonymous pheromone to attract woman, at January 20, 2006 at 6:56 PM  

  • I always thought that movie was one of the greatest sins ever made against humanity. First and foremost, because people don't read the book anymore. And second - that when they do, they miss the point.

    By Blogger Atalanta, at February 20, 2007 at 5:30 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home