I’ve talked about the Purity Disk Horse until I’m blue in the face, even knowing it’s futile, and sometimes I question why I care so much or why I put so much effort in or why it bothers me so immensely when someone is Wrong On The Internet, and I think it boils down to this.
Fiction does not exist to sanitize the human condition into digestible chunks of happiness and warm fuzzy feelings. Fiction exists to expose the human condition right down to its marrow, to peel back all the layers of niceity and civilization that we have built for ourselves so we can live comfortably in human company and get to the animal root of our nature. Fiction exists to be a release valve for the necessary repression of our darker instincts, our intrusive thoughts, the fantasies that horrify us or titillate us or sometimes do both at the same time. Fiction exists as the safe environment where the deep, festering parts of our soul are laid bare in a way that is sometimes terrifyingly intimate. Fiction exists to tell stories that are gruesome, disturbing, visceral – the stories that make you question your complacency in a society where these things really happen, to make you engage with your own human condition in a state of self-reflection and examination.
When our children encounter something new and scary that they don’t understand, when they find out about the dark horrors of the world and that the layer of candyfloss we coat things in when they’re younger is fabricated out of a desire not to see them hurt, we have a responsibility to make them engage with it. Avoiding the darkness will only make them fearful and ignorant. You must look the beast in the eye. You must say, “I know you, you live in my heart, I have seen you, and I cannot let you out in my reality, so I will let you out in my fantasy instead.”
The beast lives within all of us. Fiction is the way we tame it, and by taming it we learn how to fight the beasts that are let out into reality, the big ones that seem too massive to take on alone. Without the beast, without seeing it and knowing it and walking into its lair to learn what makes it tick, we never grow beyond the point in our lives when we truly believe that ignoring something horrible will make it go away.
Sometimes fiction can also be the balm that eases our spirit instead of the draught we take to purge the poison. Sometimes fiction can exist to give us hope, or to show us a world that really is coated with candyfloss, to give us a small amount of joy and an uplifting narrative in a place where it seems like the beast is all that rules. Those stories are also important, and are no less necessary to our human condition than the stories where we let the beast out to play. They cannot, however, be the only stories that exist. As long as the beast lives within us, we must let it feed, or it will feed on us instead.