Fact or Fiction?

Do stories illuminate or obscure?

Do stories help illuminate, or do they end up obscuring information and ideas? If you replied "it depends", you'd most likely end up in good company. However, the truth is that all stories, or myths, serve to illuminate and obscure — at the same time.

While few, if any of us were taught this simple rule in school, the principle of simultaneous illumination and obfuscation has more to do with the nature of language and story than the intentions of the storyteller. Not that the intentions of the mythmaker or storyteller don't play a role since they most certainly do.

Whenever someone sets out to tell a tale, they must decide what information to include and what to exclude. Whether the information they choose to use is misleading or not doesn't really matter — as long as you are aware of this simple principle.

If someone is seeking to inform, teach, or provide educational material not only do they need to determine what to include, they must also decide what to leave out. Any author is forced to do this for clarity, regardless as to whether they are limited by space or not. Therefore, even educational material has the potential to mislead — more often by omission than outright "lies".

Similarly, someone seeking to mislead others must weave a web of carefully-constructed falsehoods, often sprinkled with at least a modicum of truth. While the content itself might be misleading, if one reads the text carefully the intentions of the author can become crystal-clear. While the material and information may be "false", the intention of the author is often discernable by a close read - especially if one remains attuned to the emotional content of the piece.

The dual nature of story was often captured in mythic gods such as Mercury and Hermes, who were viewed as both tricksters and informers.

When you read a story are you aware of the intentions of its author?