Monday, June 17, 2013

Why Fiction Is Dangerous

In celebration of tomorrow's release of Neil Gaiman's latest novel The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, I thought I would finally take a moment to share his thoughts from BEA on why fiction is dangerous.

On the last day of BookExpo America 2013, Neil Gaiman held a panel and Q&A session called "Why Fiction Is Dangerous" It was one of the major highlights of my trip this year. After speaking to us, at length, about what inspired his two new books, Mr. Gaiman said, "So those are the two main books I have coming out and that has nothing to do, at all, with why fiction is dangerous." The audience laughed because, I suppose, they were as engrossed as I was with everything he had told us and had completely forgotten about the promise of this panel's title.

While the rest of the talk was filled with laughter and frivolity, the crowds offered up a respectful silence interrupted only by murmurs of consent as Neil Gaiman told us why fiction was dangerous. He said,
  • "Fiction is dangerous because it lets you into other people's heads,"
  • "Fiction isdangerous because it gives you empathy,"
  • "Fiction is dangerous because it shows you that the world doesn't have to be like the one you live in, which is incredibly dangerous for the world."
Neil Gaiman Why Fiction Is Dangerous
In 2007 Neil Gaiman was invited to the first officially recognized science fiction convention in China. He was curious about the country's sudden embrace of the genre, so he pulled aside one of the party officials to ask, "Science fiction has been very much frowned upon and regarded as dangerous and subversive for a very long time in China... Why have you said yes to this?" According to Gaiman, this was the man's response, "In China we are really good at making things that people bring to us... but we don't come up with them, we don't invent, we don't innovate. We went to America recently and we talked to the people at Apple, at Google, the people at Microsoft and one of the things we asked all of these people who invent and innovate was What did you read as children? And they all said, 'We read science fiction. We read fantasy. We read this stuff and thought, The world doesn't have to be like the one we are in right now. We can change it.'"

I sat there listening to Neil Gaiman and realized how beautiful danger can be. I understood how make-believe is the gateway to possibility and I remembered how closely linked imagination is to intelligence. Fiction is dangerous, in the same way our lives are: they are both unpredictable and take us down roads we may never have dreamed of traveling. 

I was so inspired by this talk, I created a Facebook cover to share this sentiment with all my facebook friends. Here it is, in case you wish to do the same (you can click on it so you can see it clearly without the sidebar interruption):
Fiction is Dangerous FB Cover

What are your thoughts on the danger of fiction?
How has fiction inspired you to think differently about your own world?


  1. Wow! What an incredible panel to have attended! The reason I love fiction is because it does show that there is so much more than the tiny bit of the world that I know. I had never thought of the danger element or that people in other parts of the world don't routinely have access to the same types of books that I am surrounded by. I'm reading dangerous things and didn't even know it! What a rebel!

  2. Tammy, I was in the same boat as you. When Mr. Gaiman began by saying that scifi was "frowned upon" in China, I was already overwhelmed by such a sense of gratefulness that I had grown up in a place where my literature - and imagination - was not restricted! As a "good girl" who always plays it safe, I was excited to find out I had been living so dangerously all these years!