Monday, July 2, 2012

Is There Such Thing as a Story for Story's Sake?

Is there such thing as a story for story's sake?

I don't think so. 

I was at a cookout over the weekend where most of the attendees were Tolkien fans and as I'm currently reading Lord of the Rings start to finish for the first time, the conversation naturally turned in that direction.

One person argued that he has read everything there is to read about Tolkien and LOTR and that it is essentially a story for story's sake. Anyone who sees symbolism, allegory or anything else in the story, he argued, is putting those elements in.

I wholeheartedly disagree. Tolkien may have intended the story to simply be a story, but by publishing it he gave the world at large the ability to interpret it as they see fit. I'm of the belief that as authors we can have intentions in our writing, but it is up to the readers to pick up on them. 

I understand that this belief is probably unpopular among other writers because it means that our words can be "misinterpreted" and it takes authority away from the authors in some senses. 

Here's my take on it though: I'm also a reader, and the stories that stick with me are the ones that mean something to me and change the way that I think about a certain topic or issue. I don't like to waste my time with stories "for story's sake." The stories that I write are for readers like me -- people that want to think deeply and be affected even in some small way by the story they're reading.

Tolkien may very well have wanted to write a story without allegory or symbolism in it, but if that was his intention I don't think he succeeded. If LOTR really is a story for story's sake, why is it still so popular? 

At the very base level, isn't it about good versus evil? Isn't it up to the reader to decide what they learn from it? What are your thoughts? Let's talk about it in the comments.

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