Fictional characters are often the best teachers. They may not be real, but they can be more comforting, wise, and relatable than anything that is. After having read so many novels, I’ve picked up a few lessons along the way, lessons that make me view life differently.
Here are five profound lessons I’ve learned from five fictional novels:
1. “Must you make a joke of everything?” “I must. By royal mandate and the curse of my own disposition. I find life quite unbearable without laughter.” – Leigh Bardugo, Rule of Wolves
Introducing Nikolai Lantsov, a truly intriguing character written by a truly phenomenal author. This mindset of his, that life simply cannot be lived without laughter, is incredibly wise and mature. Like a lot of people, I sometimes take things too seriously, especially myself—but where’s the joy in that? We have to learn to laugh at ourselves; to make colours from the drab and dreary. There are bound to be challenges; bound to be obstacles we find hard to climb, but, like Nikolai, we have to take them with a charming grin and relentless optimism. We have to have fun with life for, without pleasure, life becomes lifeless.
2. “You really don’t understand, do you? I don’t want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted? Just like that, and it didn’t mean anything. What then?” – Neil Gaiman, Coraline
Coming from a children’s book, this quote completely threw me off. I was shocked by the wisdom a little girl like Coraline could possess. I never realized how meaningless it would be if everything in life was just handed to me, if everything I wished for simply came true. If that were the case, there would be no reward, no satisfaction to go along with it. If the object were void of all meaning, would I still want it at all?
3. “It enabled me to do what I’ve always wanted most.” “Which is?” “To live without thinking.” – Donna Tartt, The Secret History
Ok, yes, the “it” here is referring to the night of a murder, but the “live without thinking” part still holds true. Nobody wants to lead a life with so much thinking—thinking gets in the way. It’s paralyzing, it holds us back. This is very much the case with this character, who, because of how much and how consistently he used to think, was pretty much living dead, which is a terrible way to go through life. I can confidently say that I related to him; that, sometimes, I wish I could just turn off my brain and live in peace, not having to worry about my concerns and anxieties hounding me. Of course, life isn’t that easy. The best we can do is to learn to stop overthinking, allow ourselves to experience some tranquility.
4. “Don’t be afraid. There are exquisite things in store for you. This is merely the beginning.” – Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorain Gray
I find this quote immediately reassuring. As human beings, we can’t help but fret about the future and what awaits us. This quote, however, is a hand on our shoulders telling us that everything will be okay; life has only just begun. After all, aren’t we always at the beginning? There is only one real end. For now, there will always be more waiting for us, glorious things we cannot yet imagine. A comforting thought, isn’t it?
5. “The only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.” – Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life
I couldn’t let the opportunity to write this article go by without mentioning at least one A Little Life quote. This book taught me so much about friendship, but this passage is especially striking. Friendship and how to obtain it is described beautifully, demonstrating it as something genuine and profound rather than superficial and temporary. Friendship is learning, teaching, and improving for all the right reasons in all the right ways. Like the character says, getting close to someone can be challenging, but it introduces wonderful things that one couldn’t have achieved otherwise, like solace and confidentiality. By surrounding yourself with good people, you yourself become better and will want to become better. This passage proves that friendship isn’t something one can just let go; it’s permanent, whether the relationship still exists or has faded away, leaving a mark on one’s very character in its wake.
The more books I read, the more I learn, and the more I contemplate and wonder and see. It’s strange to think that these fictional worlds, all with fictional characters leading fictional lives, influence and change mine, guiding me through it one line at a time—strange, and yet utterly wonderful.