What good are stories, anyway?
When one considers the more practical professions: the engineer, the scientist, the farmer, and the protector, their benefits to society at large are well understood and measurable. The profession of the storyteller is somewhat less unclear as to the merits of society. From the earliest cave men to men walking on the moon, the storyteller has remained with us: in books, plays, epics, opera, movies, television, and now video-games. The reason for this is that human beings dream. Stories, when done well, evoke dreams. Thus, the benefit of a story teller is to evoke dreams.
Why do dreams matter?
Dreams are the origin point of human creation. Knowledge and reason are essential for formulating ideas into a useful form. Ideas must have an origin, though. Ideas come from dreams. Science-Fiction, Fantastic Fiction and Speculative Fiction in general have an ability to generate the dreams that lead to new useful ideas.
Consider the engineer who was inspired to go into that field from “Star Trek”, or the pioneers of computer science and robotics that were inspired by the golden age pulp classics of computers and robots. The writers did not create these things, but they did help inspire the people who came later who did.
This then may be the true calling of the storyteller: to help create wonder and dreams to inspire others to greatness. By bringing such dreams into the minds of others, the storyteller can not only inspire, but bring about new visions of what may not have been believed to be possible.
The type of the dream matters.
An exultant dream of a triumph over evil, a hopeful dream of a better tomorrow, or an inventive dream of a new way of doing things can help inspire humanity to new heights. Nightmares of failure, rampant injustice, and scenes of gray stagnation do not inspire, however, but do exactly the opposite. They may be heralded as “realistic” but that does not make them either real, nor of a benefit. Adversity and evil make drama, and the drama is the process of overcoming evil and adversity, sometimes at great sacrifice, but that they are to be overcome is the goal of the protagonist. A meaningless series of gray and hopeless events inspires one to do nothing.
A question to ask in the evaluation of art is: what does it inspire? Does it inspire one to greatness and wonder? Or, is it a gray work that beats down all hope, mocks all virtue and tells one that all achievement is meaningless? What views will inspire and thus shape the world from the work? Weather creating art, or enjoying it, the type of art and it’s inspiration are ours to choose. What dreams will you choose to dream?