Fiction can enlighten while it entertains
In our last post, shade was thrown on the idea that fiction can enlighten a reader. The post also contains the suggestion that reading to be informed is worthwhile while reading fiction merely entertains – and that it doesn’t do such a very good job of that compared to numerous alternatives.
Setting aside the opinion that reading fiction is an inferior way to entertain oneself, let’s deal with the issue of enlightenment. First of all, we probably need to clear up what might be some confusion in terminology. Knowledge and enlightenment are not synonymous. Insofar as information contains real (not fake) facts, acquiring and storing information adds to one’s knowledge. Enlightenment is the result of ‘getting it’ – the ‘it’usually being understanding that contributes to one’s holistic growth as a human being. Nothing guarantees that knowledgeable people are also enlightened people. Fictional stories can actually make this exact point, and many do. And when a story does make this point (hopefully in an entertaining way), the reader will know that knowledge and enlightenment are separate things altogether, and not necessarily related.
“Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment”, a purely fictional story, highlights the distinction between knowledge and enlightenment very well. Dr. Heidegger, a scientist, invites four old friends to his study. He wants to use his friends as subjects in an experiment. It’s fair to presume at least three of the friends had acquired a decent amount of knowledge along the way because they had achieved success. Nothing in the story suggests their success had been handed to them. But all of the friends Dr. Heidegger invited to his study also made big mistakes along the way, mistakes that ruined their lives and wiped out their achievements and/or assets.
Dr. Heidegger Attempts to Enlighten his Guests
Before the experiment begins, Dr. Heidegger advises his old friends. He tells them that they will be going back and getting a second chance so they should reflect upon their lives to avoid duplicating the mistakes that ruined them their first time around.
As the story unfolds, only one of the five characters in the story demonstrates some degree of enlightenment. Readers will know who that is. What this bit of enlightenment means to the characters, to the one who ‘gets it’ and to those who didn’t, would be a good subject for classroom discussion. The story, purely fictional, will add nothing to a reader’s knowledge-base. Nonetheless, it should serve to enlighten readers about the difference between knowledge and enlightenment without overtly referring to the difference!
All of this is not to say that facts and knowledge cannot also enlighten us. Insofar as facts can lead us to make connections to even larger truths, they certainly do enlighten. But this takes nothing away from the ability of fiction to do the same. And fiction is entertainment! If we read just for information, we are probably missing out on a lot of entertaining enlightenment! We think “Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment”, the first book we published in our Adapted Classics collection, both entertains and enlightens very well. It received many favorable reviews and is well-worth a read. But it is also well-worth a look! The illustrations are outstanding, which is a huge part of it’s overall value.« Back