Today the significance of reading is widely recognized. A few centuries ago, novels and poems did not enjoy the same status on the intellectual platform. Stories raised eyebrows especially if found in the hands of a woman or written by one. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that comics today are undergoing the same painful progression which brought novels to its present worth in the average man’s perspective.
The purpose of stories and their worth is an incredible question. What does a story give?
A story gives life. It gives life to the almost dead individuals incapable of social interaction. It gives life to the pebbles in the puddle on the dark alley. It gives life to grandma’s old chest and grandpa’s pocket watch. It gives language to the fishes and frogs. It brings beauty of the world and beyond to the pessimistic before their eyes. It gives life to life itself. It brings another world into our own and synchronizes it, however fantastical or unbelievably, impossibly horrifying it may be. It shows what the average mind dared not to see. It has what the average man dared not believe in. It has magic.
The first time I read Kidnapped was in school. An excerpt of the novel was a part of my syllabus. I had read it before the term began as I had every other story of my Oxford English Literature Textbook. I was absolutely taken by it and David Balfour of Shaws was the boy I definitely would be when I grew up. If it had a ‘moral’, I don’t remember it. It is just one of the best books ever written and one among those to have me obsess over it for the longest time.
Sometimes a book you pick up out of boredom becomes refuge. Sherlock Holmes knocked me like I’d walked right into a door. Except that the door opened and another world very much like this came to be. It had a stark sense of black and white when viewed from the lenses of order and social governance. Arthur Conan Doyle can be said to author a moral underwriting to Sherlock Holmes but the overpowering sense of adventure, bone chilling screams, air of mystery and panic seeped through the book and drowned me in adrenaline. It shrouded me and only me in the room full of people.
But, something in my understanding and perception visibly changed when I picked up Austen and Great Expectations. The black and white then began to blur and adrenaline then gave way to paused readings and momentous realizations. From understanding what was right and wrong, acceptable and not, I was going towards unlearning them in the process of thought development. When I read Sherlock Holmes again, I was no longer seized by fury against Prof. Moriarty. On the contrary, I found myself impressed with him following which my respect for Sir Doyle notched up for pairing a deserving antagonist opposite the sleuth.
Miss Havisham and the old Bennet couple drew grey for me. And today, I cannot see the black and the white in the world. I see grey. Everything is both black and white. I am aware of a world, a universe within everything.
So, what does a story give?
A story gives you the ability to see what you didn’t even know existed. A story gives you the feeling of an experience you were unaware of. A story gives you a sense of what lies beyond your sight. A story holds up a mirror and opens doors. A story turns day into night and night into day. A story is the truth shoved in the creaks and niches of reality.
But, why do we need to question its worth?
Like the inherent rhythm in nature and music in its process, stories exist in both, the animate and inanimate, alike. What if there is no depth of meaning or underlying essence to a story? Does that tug its value down or strip it of the ‘acceptable’ status as an activity? What if a story is stripped of its purpose? Would we cast it out?