Growing up I was often to be found with my nose in a book and my mind in another reality. I had the privilege of traversing worlds; meeting people, some who were different from me and some who were startlingly similar to me. It was immaterial whether these people were fictitious or notâto me it was just as though they really lived. Their stories taught me to see myself and others in a new light. It was revolutionary.
Eventually, like so many others, I stopped seeing the value in reading fiction. Through high school I found other interests. I had little time for novels; instead, I was overtaken by a desire for something useful, something real. I preferred non-fiction.
Useful to be human?
When it came to studying at university I chose to follow my passion for Fine Arts. Because I thought it would be more useful to society, I chose to be a film maker over becoming a sculptor or painter.
I feel the struggle to value the Arts at a university swamped with engineers. I see the size of the Arts and Fine Arts faculties and wonder what we're doing here. What is the value of the humanities? Those engineers are learning to create a better world, build infrastructure and come up with technological advancementsâand me? Occasionally I manage to produce entertainment. What a lovely hobby.
At the same time as I was losing interest in reading fiction, I was gaining interest in performing it. I did improvised drama and Shakespeare. I enjoyed being quite good at something, relishing the community and energy of acting.
I was also inadvertently discovering the power of the story coming off the page. I met characters seconds and centuries old, and they had reality.
Why are Shakespeare's works still performed throughout the world? What is it that makes people keep coming back to the Bard? He has something to say about us. We see ourselves in Macbeth, in Romeo, in Hermia and Helena. These characters are human, and human nature doesn't really change all that much throughout history.
I think we often forget most of our scriptures are poetry and stories. These narratives are historical, but they serve the same function as fiction. These histories are told in order to give an honest picture of rebellious humanity and a just yet merciful God. God, through the prophets and incarnate, makes pictures. He compares His people to lots of thingsâsome more flattering than others.
Tolkien was convinced of the power of the myth, the story. He saw it as the creative work of God's image bearers. He wrote a poem dedicated to C.S. Lewis, defending the value of fiction against Lewis' dismissiveness:
"I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tendsâ
if by God's mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.
I will not treat your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and that,
your world immutable wherein no part
the little maker has with maker's art.
I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
nor cast my own small golden sceptre down."
Christians can offer a unique service to the world through storytelling. We have a unique point of view, and are able to combat the lies, the idols and distorted realities of our age through sharing this perspective.
We can model a Christian perspective in our characters, show the fallen nature of our world, and introduce such ideas as justice, mercy, faith and sacrifice. Part of this service is to combat the curious notion that God is not involved in our worldâan idea that has dominated novels since they first appeared during the Enlightenment.
For the love of God: create!
I took another look at what I do. As a film maker, as an artist and storyteller, I ask questions. I show the world through my eyes. I work out what's important in life, prod reality with a stick and see what makes us tick. I imitate God, ruling over my little creation, but using it as a lens to investigate God's creation. I turn to fiction in order to squish more truth in, to condense reality into one place and examine it better.
I am working out my purpose as the imago deiâa creation bearing God's image. Art can be more than entertainment, more than just a story or a song. Art can reveal truth, beauty, purpose and plan.
Matthew Joils was created by God and he is In Christ. He is studying toward a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Filmmaking at the University of Canterbury. He is involved in the Christian Union on Campus. Sometimes he earns money in the hospitality industry; sometimes he does theatre stuff, gardens, and bakes.
Matthew Joils' previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/matthew-joils.html