What ‘A Child Called It’ Taught Me About Stories

I read a book called A Child Called It during Highschool.  It’s a first hand account written from someone who was beaten and starved as a child by his abusive mother and played torturous games with him, or at least that’s what the author says.  I didn’t really think twice about the story’s exact validity because the point of the story was about how terrifying and real child abuse is.  A few months ago I read an article about how the story is under suspicion of being exaggerated, profiting off of the abuse story, or completely false.  I don’t know if the guy made it all up, apparently one of his brothers says he did while another one says it was all real.  That is one of the scary realities of this situation, a lot of child abuse goes on and we don’t know about it.  His own brothers can’t even agree if it happened.

But the point is that whether this particular story is true or false, the message of the story is still valid…child abuse happens; it is real; it is terrifying.  So what does that have to do with Story?  Two things I’ve been pondering in my head for a bit were brought out while I was thinking about this.

  1. Just because a story isn’t real doesn’t mean the point of the story is worthless
  2. I think we need to look into a story before touting it as 100% factual reality

Many times I see stories get thrown around to simply illustrate an idea.  If the point of a story isn’t that it actually happened but that it makes you think, it being a reality or not shouldn’t phase you.  Maybe you have heard some of those famous cheesy chain mail letters about the student who countered his professor’s proof that God doesn’t exist or that God is evil(and sometimes the kid conveniently turns out to be Albert Einstein).  Or parts of the Old Testament seem to be more metaphor or Hebrew allegory than factual history(or so I’ve been told be people more versed in this area).  In either of these cases I have encountered a lot of hostile reactions in two opposite directions: 1) they assert that since the story is “just made up” then it is not worthwhile or, 2) they try to prove that isn’t made up, is factual history, and therefore worthwhile.  I think both of these approaches are incorrect in the sense that they both hinge its worth on whether the story is real or not.  The addition to the end of the student-challenging-his-professor story about the kid being Einstein is actually an addition to prove its worth.  Since the kid is Einstein, a very smart man that actually existed, the story must be real and therefore worthwhile.  But this addition hinges the story’s worth on the fact that it is a reality, problematic!

Worthwhile stories do not have to be true.  Take Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings as famous examples, they are made up but there is so much truth we can learn from them about our world, desires, doing what is right, and love.