Truthtelling in Fiction

I haven’t yet read Michael Crichton’s new novel about environmentalist conspirators, State Of Fear, but it’s on my wish list. The Christianity Today review of Crichton’s book by Read Mercer Schuchardt is good overall, but this line in particular struck me:

Crichton deftly reminds us that today, only fiction writers can tell the truth.

This is an interesting concept, though I dare say it applies only to today. Literature has throughout history had somewhat greater license to convey ideas than outright argumentation. This is because the cloak of fiction always leaves the reader a perceived “way out.” In a more objective battle of ideas, one must either accept or reject explicitly the idea that is set forth. With fiction, one can appreciate the work while still encountering ideas that might be too hostile in a debate.

Fiction’s inclination toward subtlety is both a strength and a weakness. While it can make an alternate idea or truth known to a opposing reader, the reader can easily dismiss it without having to deal with the intellectual consequences—consider the Soviet Union’s rejection of Dostoevsky’s ideas while continuing to celebrate him as a Russian author. In order to work properly, truthtelling fiction must be accompanied by truthtelling nonfiction. There is also the issue of where the fiction writer will get his truth to tell if not from truthtelling nonfiction writers!

There needs to be a good mix of both fiction and nonfiction in truthtelling. Fiction, if it is not too preachy, can make inroads where straight argument could never go. However we still need outright tellers of truth if the depths of truth are to be further explored.