What is a true story? It isn’t just a story about something that happened. A true story should be more than that; deeper and more solid. Truth isn’t simply a set of facts, it includes what those facts mean and how they relate to natural law.
As persons we are made to resonate with the natural law. In some ways our observance of the laws of nature are like a shadow, a type, of how we observe natural law. The most common metaphorical example of this is to say that a person who decides he wants to break the law of gravity and jumps off a building, will demonstrate the law of gravity, rather than break it. The law of gravity will break him. As it is with the laws of nature, so it is with natural law. When we decide we can break the natural law, to do as we want, we so often demonstrate it, in how it breaks us.
We don’t need to have studied philosophy or read the Summa to understand the basics of natural law. The law is written on our hearts (CCC 1954+), that i,s we can know it through reason and I suppose we could even argue we know it instinctively.
That’s not to say we all automatically know the whole Truth and the complete moral law; no, that we have to seek in order to find. We are promised that should we seek it, we will find it. The Church has always taught that we must follow our conscience and that we are obliged to form that conscience. As parents we are the primary educators of our children, so we are to help them form their consciences.
Stories can help us do that.
Some stories stick with us. The great old fairy stories that the Grimm brothers have made famous, are steeped in old pagan memories but also in basic human truths. We see that beauty is in itself something of goodness, and that it is more than skin deep (Beauty and the Beast). We see sacrifice, love, courage, honour played out against, fear, envy, hatred and murderous intent, without being preached at in any way.
A true story is much more than a factual story. True stories resonate with us, because we want truth really. The reason that Tolkien’s books remain so popular are because they have that truth. The little men show courage and strength that speaks to us in a way that even Gandalf’s great battle with evil and consequent “whiteness” doesn’t.
I can’t help believing that Tolkien and Lewis will be read long after Rowling and the agenda driven Pullman are forgotten.
One of the most popular kinds of books and TV programmes are based around murder. So many people have read of Sherlock Holmes, Poirot and Miss Marple, the wonderful Peter Wimsey, Dr. Thorndyke and the ever beloved Fr. Brown. Some the attraction is undoubtedly in the “who dunnit” solve the puzzle, following the clues, but the root of the enjoyment comes from the moral certainty that murder is wrong, no matter how much the victim may have seemed to deserve it. Murder stories have almost the same sense as the traditional fairy stories were good and evil are clearly seen, even when the characters are flawed and complicated, like real people.
I am aware that there have been attempts by writers (for TV mainly I think) to turn the natural law on it’s head and have stories that make out murder to be fine, but I not aware they have been popular. That’s a sign of hope, that even in our post-Christian, post-traditonal-pagan (bring back old paganism!) culture we haven’t completely lost touch with ourselves.