“THIS is a work of fiction.”
Found on the flyleaf of novels, this line may change the way I will tell stories to my future grandchildren.
With their fathers, I opened tales spun out of make-believe with, “Once upon a time…”
My grandchildren will be born in a post-truth world. To exist with “alternative facts,” will disclaimers be needed, even for timeless rituals like bedtime storytelling?
Last week, I was downloading ebook versions of Ursula K. Le Guin’s novels after having an online chat with a former mentor about the “Left Hand of Darkness”.
A national chain of bookstores stocks Le Guin in the section for children and young adults: “Catwings” and “A Wrinkle in Time”. I have a feeling that Le Guin would not look down her fastidious needle of a nose to be classified this way (many children are more critical and discerning than many adults).
Published in 1969, “The Left Hand of Darkness” is at home in this post-truth world. In the universe called The Ekumen, where gender is neither of two boxes to be ticked neatly (“male” or “female”) but fluid (“male” and “female”), the narrator Genly Ai begins the tale: “I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.”
On Feb. 2, 2017, Le Guin wrote a letter to the editor of “The Oregonian” in reaction to another letter that “compares a politician’s claim to tell ‘alternative facts’ to the inventions of science fiction”.
“The comparison won’t work,” she wrote. “We fiction writers make up stuff… We may call some of it ‘alternative history’ or ‘an alternate universe,’ but make absolutely no pretense that our fictions are ‘alternative facts’.”
Le Guin was most likely referring to U.S. Counselor to President Trump Kellyanne Conway, who referred to White House falsehoods as “alternative facts.”
In their lexicography, politicians use “alternative facts” when sidestepping from truth. Splicing “fake news” requires greater sleight of mind; one can tell the truth but still be faking if this version disagrees with the official view.
“The test of a fact is that it simply is so - it has no ‘alternative’,” Le Guin wrote in 2017.
“A novelist’s business is lying,” she wrote in the 1969 Introduction of “The Left Hand of Darkness”. “All fiction is metaphor.”
A metaphor for what? She answers her own question: “If I could have said it non-metaphorically, I would not have written all these words, this novel.”
“In most times, most places, by most people, liars are considered contemptible,” wrote Le Guin in 2017. The late author, who passed away in January 2018, was making a fine point, and I don’t mean it metaphorically.