Good Writers, Universal Truth
What makes a good writer? American novelist William Faulkner in 1950 gave his answer to the question raised by Paul Williams in his column last week. Faulkner accepted the Nobel Prize in literature in 1950, a time when the world lived with a growing fear of nuclear holocaust. “There are no longer problems of the spirit,” he said then. “There is only the question: When will I be blown up?”
He encouraged the young writers of his day to forget “anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed—love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.”
Human beings have souls, Faulkner reminded his audience, spirits “capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things,” he said. “It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.”
With terrorist threats and economic uncertainty peppering today’s newscasts, many in this generation are also beset by fear. For escape some retreat to reality TV or ESPN or snippets skimmed from Yahoo, Facebook, or YouTube. Certainly there are still many who read. But I’m remembering the comment of a Christian friend who’s been receiving recommended books from girlfriends in her office. “These stories have interesting plots,” she said, but bemoaned the foul language and graphically portrayed sexual encounters in virtually every one she’s been handed.
Faulkner said writers disconnected from “old universal truths” labor “under a curse.” They write “not of love but of lust . . . not of the heart but of the glands.” How many have considered his warning in the six decades since he spoke?
Some would point to the rise of “Christian fiction” as proof that many writers and readers are still inspired by stories teaching universal truths. Others are suspicious of the whole genre, reminding us that great literature illustrates truth, but does not set out to teach it. Storytelling and lesson planning are exercises performed best when kept separate from each other.
But many books by Christian authors for a Christian audience do touch their readers with the ring of truth. In posts here the last several days, 12 partners in Standard Publishing’s ministry recommend such books from their library. Each one speaks to Faulkner’s “verities,” eternal values first framed by God.
Unfortunately, Faulkner didn’t give God credit for the universal truths he lauded. The authors of these recommendations avoid that mistake in books their reviewers are eager for you to read too.