Fiction is mysterious. It has a way of binding you in its world of exhilarating adventures, endless possibilities, awe-inspiring characters and perfect endings. For a short time you become part of this world where magical things are possible, injustices are always conquered, mysteries always solved and everyone lives happily ever after. Then the book ends and you’re left stranded wishing there was more.
Fiction, whether in the form of great novels, fairy tales or comic books, has been alluring us for centuries now. The reason quite simply is because every child and adult, every student and teacher, is Don Quixote. We find our place in the real world by making up the best stories and trying to live them. We wake up every morning after reading a great piece of fiction as heroes. Whether it’s through Gatsby glamorous world or Holden Caulfield troubled one, Hamlet’s kingdom or Mr. Darcy’s mansion, Bilbo Baggins fantastical journey or Harry Potter’s magical one, for a while fiction allows us to escape ourselves and become someone else – someone ideal with an exciting life who does good, or fights bad, or learns about the difference between the two. So we escape with Clark Kent, emerging from phone booths as a powerful hero, we change our clothes and put on a mask like Bruce Wayne and become individuals off honour and nobility. Their story becomes our story, their lives become our life. Just for a while anyways.
These fictional characters fight for all the things that we deem great: truth, honor, good, worth and integrity. Their fight to be an authentic self mirrors our difficult struggle to define ourselves in this chaotic and ever-changing world. Most recently, this idea has been presented in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The “tributes” key challenge is how to maintain their integrity and their identity in an atmosphere that is built on aggression and betrayal. Peeta Mellark tells Katniss, “I want to die as myself… I don’t want them to change me in there.” Katniss wonders “How could he die as anyone but himself?” She herself is advised to make up stories about herself to gain audience sympathy but she can’t – she remains authentic to her stubborn, impatient, rude and blunt self. Yet much of the plot is focused on her acting a part to fool the Capitol to ensure her and Peeta’s safety.
In the world of the Hunger Games, just like any other fictional book, everything is staged. In the midst of extreme theatricality there are beauticians to show the tributes true self but it is all a performance to give the audience what they want – excitement, thrill, adventure, love. It is why fiction is so alluring. As readers we want to believe the fictional simulation is real so we can escape reality. “It’s like a game,” reflects Katniss at the end and she’s right. The reason fiction can so strongly draw us in is because our lives are a game, and our identities are performances. Mother, father, daughter, son, student, American, Chinese, doctor, sister, brother, friend, singer, carpenter … we play a role everyday. Fiction just lets us be someone else for a while, with a different disguise, a different mask.