Parables, Fables, Lies, and the Christian Writer
Jesus was probably raised on parables in his Jewish home. The Jewish tradition has many wonderful parables still available today and still shared in families. One famous book of parable wisdom is From the Midrash. Jesus’ mother, like other Jewish mothers of His time, most likely used parables to teach her son wisdom and good judgement.
Today’s writers, especially writers of children’s literature, are warned about being too didactic. “Don’t let your story’s lesson be too obvious; the kids won’t like it,” we’re told. I wonder if Aesop heard the same warnings. He wrote wonderful fables, literature with the purpose of teaching obvious moral consequence. I’d say he’s got an enviable success rate!
After last week’s daily readings of the parables, I’ve been giving some thought to my own work and the moral consequences and good judgement I write on the pages. Enough? Too much? Spokes, a YA mystery/adventure whose motif is a triathlon and training, is filled with “lessons.” These aren’t taught, at least not by me. They just happen in the framework of the story. Life is a pretty good teacher, after all.
In this story, Kelsey has a great relationship with her dad. By the second chapter the young reader will already see how important that relationship is going to be, and they’ll be envious. Kelsey’s quick appraisal and judgement of a boy she doesn’t know, teaches her – on her own – without help from the author, how wrong one can be when judging others. Faith, family, and friends, Kelsey discovers, are keys to her happiness. Will my readers come to the same conclusion?
Every decision results in consequence. As writers we can show this to our young readers and offer behaviors using characters they relate to and trust. When the consequences are the truth in life, they “get it” from the story. No preaching or explaining is necessary.
We can learn about writing lessons into our fiction from Jesus and Aesop. And it would do us well to also note that the same way we show moral behavior and consequence, is the way some authors choose to impress young minds with immoral behavior dressed up to look inviting, and then fail to tell true-to-life consequences in the end, glorifying sin. When I read these, I can see that it’s not parable, fable, or good fiction. It’s a lie.
Good fiction is a good story that wields the punch of a parable or a fable; the consequences must be true. For the Christian writer, if the consequence is a lie, we’ve lost our purpose.