Classic Stories . . . and Why They’re Better

As moral imagination plummets in most modern stories being told, a hunger is growing within spectators for better inspiration – something that is rooted deeper than the void of “truth subversion”. If you, like me, are dissatisfied with the morally ambiguous characters portrayed in most new stories, then your imagination just might spring from virtue. You see, the classic story of a protagonist showing virtuous character and defeating the antagonist (whether it be a person, a challenge in general, or simply an adventure the protagonist has) works because it is placed and situated within a certain context. Good stories have certain ingredients – just like a brownies recipe, or perhaps the same sorts of ingredients that make gardens grow. You cultivate the earth, pour water on the vegetation, and within a few months, you are harvesting vegetables. Good stories spring from similar roots. They are set deep within virtue, imagination, richness (different from psychological complexity), wonder, culture, and environment.

If you are wondering what I mean by “truth subversion” or “psychological complexity”, allow me to explain. Today, most people grade stories on the complexity of the characters. However, “complexity” is normally code language for “psychological tension” within a character. This tension within the character causes the antagonist moral dilemmas that lead to moral corruption. Morally ambiguous characters becomes the result – where good is not always good to choose, and the evil sometimes brings an end to the story. Such stories might seem to give a flash of engagement with their audience, but their roots have no true richness. Instead, the character flaws lead only to characters subverting the truth for a more complex solution. Simply put, without the perseverance of the good, the characters become woody, corrupt, depressed, and rather puny.

However, virtuous tales do not merely spring from the climactic scene of “good guy beating bad buy”. In order to understand what “good” is, the “good” of the story must be explored. Since “bad” is merely the lack or corruption of the good, it can easily be understood through the reference of the good. Situating the good within a virtuous context and culture allows the reader/spectator to learn to appreciate and grow from the richness of the story’s environment.

When a reader picks up Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, he learns to appreciate Hans through the culture of Holland and the virtuous honor of the story. In Sherlock Holmes, we are always hoping Holmes will solve the case because we have learned to trust him through his knowledge and skill that is so deep rooted in Victorian society and a will to rid London of the criminal. With The Secret Garden, we grow to love the gardens as much as Mary does because she is learning so much from their worth. Inside Wind in the Willows, we are hoping Toad will learn his lessons because his friends are aiding him in the process of exploring what it means to be a “gentleman”. The examples could continue with such authors as Nesbit, Carroll, Norton, Lewis, Baum, Barrie, Stevenson, Austen, and Scott (this list by no means exhaustive). Such tales, rooted in a culture that is explained and explored through the story, develops a rich understanding of the imagination through the underlying virtues that hold the story together.

Your fellow writer,

Joshua A. Reynolds, Proprietor

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