In the US today we are celebrating Columbus Day (the actual date of the holiday is October 10) in honor of Christopher Columbus who has been credited with discovering America. Oddly, the two western continents are named after Amerigo Vespucci, not the Norse explorer Leif Ericson, who founded the first European settlement in the “new world,” nor Columbus.
Columbus, while not first, and not even aware he’d found a “new” land, deserves a lot of credit for calling attention to the Americas, essentially opening up colonization in places that had previously been unknown. As I thought about his voyage of exploration, I realized there were some similarities between him and Abraham in the Bible. Both took off for parts unknown with no assurance that they’d find a safe haven.
We know from Scripture that Abraham went in obedience to God’s command. He trusted God’s sure word, so unless Columbus had the same kind of guidance or direction from God, the advantage was all Abraham’s.
Think what it took for Columbus to set sail, depending on little else besides his idea of what the world looked like. He had to have courage, an adventurous spirit, fortitude, confidence. In miniature I think these are the same qualities writers and readers have to have.
Courage. Writers must have the courage of their convictions, the courage to spill their thoughts, their understanding of the world, their grasp of the way people interact, their hopes. Readers must have the courage to go where they may not always want to go: into a magical land filled with dangerous beings, into the temptations of a wayward pastor, into the guilt and grief of a mother who lost her child.
Readers are sometimes chastised for choosing their books with the intent to escape. They pick up an author who is familiar, a genre that will give them stories that are safe. Perhaps this escape actually indicates these readers are bringing only a small dose of courage with them. For, any novel takes courage. The reading experience takes people out of themselves and puts them into the skin of someone else. It broadens whoever dares to cross that threshold.
Writers and readers alike also need an adventurous spirit, and those into speculative fiction, more so. Writers create new worlds or turn our existing world on its head, and readers eagerly jump into stories that take them “where no man has gone before.”
Fortitude might not be a word we usually associate with reading, but strength of mind and a bit of moral fiber is of utmost importance when dealing with ideas. Writers need to stand firm on their convictions, because writing a story challenges what we believe as well as how we should show it.
Readers need fortitude, too. Because stories take readers into the minds of others and into worlds and times that are very different, our lives bump up against different worldviews. Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly challenged by what we read.
Fortitude can help us both to stand firm on a true foundation rather than shifting from idea to idea and to stand against a fear of change or anything new. Fortitude facilitates both discernment and conviction. It provides what we need to maintain a healthy balance so that we’re neither stuck in cement nor wandering aimlessly from new thought to new thought.
Finally writers and readers need confidence. I’ve known writers who lack confidence, and ultimately very few people ever see their stories. To put a story out for agents and editors to consider, for readers to ignore or review, takes courage. A piece of the writer goes into every story, and it takes courage to stand before an audience of strangers stripped of pretense.
Readers need confidence too—confidence that they’re spending their money or their time in a wise way. Reviews and endorsements and recommendations contribute toward building reader confidence: they provide information which allows a reader to try an author he’s never heard of or to read in a genre he didn’t think he would like.
For both writers and readers, then, stories afford us the opportunity to reflect the spirit of Christopher Columbus, if only in miniature. Perhaps with some practice, we’ll step out in a bigger way one day—something that reading certainly encourages.
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In keeping with the holiday spirit, Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian friends and visitors.