(That, for the uninitiated, was a Moment of Optimism. I have them once or twice a year. I’ll keep you posted if it happens again.)
I forget how old I was, or what grade I was in, in elementary school. I forget who the teacher was (though I could make a guess).
She assigned our class to write a short story about Conservation. (Conservation, children, is what we used to have before we had Environmentalism. It was abolished because of its association with Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican.)
I sat down and wrote an easy, boiler-plate, Department of Agriculture Information Office-style tale about a farm family that teaches its old-fashioned neighbor a lesson in Crop Rotation.
I opened it with a line something like this:
“Neighbor’s complaining about his fields eroding again,” said Dad as he came in for supper.
When I’d finished, the teacher looked it over.
“You have to change this dialogue,” she said. “It’s not proper English. You have to say ‘The neighbor’ or ‘Our neighbor.’”
“But this is how people talk!” I protested.
“This is an English class,” she replied. “We write properly in this class.”
I knew it was wrong. I knew that no farmer in this hemisphere ever walks into the kitchen and says, ‘The neighbor…’ or “Our neighbor…” He drops the article. That’s how farmers talk. I lived on a farm. I knew these things.
But I changed the dialogue, because I was a child under authority.
There are people who claim that fiction is a lie, and therefore Christians must not write it.
They are wrong. Fiction is not a lie. Fiction is a shared creative enterprise, in which a storyteller and a reader collaborate to build an imaginary world on terms mutually understood. There is no deception involved, and therefore no lie.
But what that teacher made me do that day was a lie.