stories, science, fact and fiction…and truth

Long ago, I had a conversation with a young person about the difference between facts and truth.

Stories are True.

In Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague, Grandpa Beebe says: Facts are fine, fer as they go … but they’re like water bugs skittering atop the water. Legends, now – they go deep down and bring up the heart of a story.

Chincoteague is a real place, I’ve been there many times. Misty was a real pony, I met her a couple months before she died in 1972. I have stood in her hoofprints at the Island Theater.


Grandpa Beebe was real (and possibly responsible for the fact that many ponies on the island are pintos, though that is as much a matter of local legend as scientific fact).

The book, rooted in the reality of a tiny island in the Virginian marshes at the edge of the world, is largely fiction. Lines said, things happened, plausible, but fictionalized to make a classic story that holds up to this day (and is likely responsible for putting Chincoteague and Pony Penning on the map).

The line Grandpa Beebe says in the book may have been recorded by Marguerite Henry, or made up, but it is TRUE, it reflects him, the island and the real deep truth of stories, how they dive below the surface and draw up deep things that can only be explained indirectly… with a story.

Creation stories, myths and heroes and modern comics and faerie tales and science fiction and blue police boxes that travel through space and time and planets where apes and humans have switched places and zombie apocalypses and travelling brothers fighting the supernatural, and wizards and starships…

…the stories we love allow us to experience action and emotions and adventure and cliff hangers and scary stuff without actually picking up a katana to fight zombies or a lightsaber or star spangled shield to fight evil.

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We ride with our heroes and experience their journeys.

We dive deep…

…and we bring up the heart of the story.

I had a conversation the other day with a young person who didn’t get why badly drawn horses and crappy dysfunctional reindeer harness and stupid unicorns with the wrong legs make me crazy.

“It’s just a cartoon”

“It’s just fantasy”

“It’s just for kids”

“It’s just a story”


Stories contain deep truth, like the finger pointing at the moon, they are not the moon, but they show us the moon, they point the way.

Some of our finest stories have been “cartoons”; Disney, Dreamworks, Pixar, Laika, Miyasaki and Studio Ghibli, all have brought us fantastic tales unmatched by mere “realism”. To tell those tales so beautifully, they animate every raindrop, spend ages slowly moving action figures millimeter by millimeter to create the illusion of action, or spend ages at a computer designing entire worlds…

…and to make those worlds believable, to make the stories make sense, to have impact, to let us into that world for an hour or two, the artists and writers study this world defined by science and understand how it works… then they distill that into art, a “cartoon”, a model, a costume, a fabulous world of wizarding or space and time or a zombie apocalypse or a planet of the apes.

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When and how do you tell your kid the difference between fact and make believe?

When do you destroy their belief about Santa? Or do you tell them it’s just a story from the beginning? Wait wait, nothing is JUST a story…

This article says, about pre-schoolers:

 They haven’t yet developed the ability to think in abstract terms, and they’re not super secure about the difference between fantasy and reality.

And yes, kids should learn the difference between scientific fact and “truthiness” and fibs and lies and …


Because we NEED imagination.

It is the distant whoosh whoosh of the tardis landing, the roar of starship engines firing up, and the owl landing softly with your invitation to wizarding school…

all those adventures will enlarge your own reality, make you better able to change your own world and be your own hero.

More cool stuff on how to teach your kids this stuff.

By the Way, those of us who are Highly Sensitive and Creative tend to still be freaked out by monsters in the basement and people in masks…


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