Novel Ideas

Barton Swaim on the Fictional Value of “Things That Never Existed”

There is a long and venerable tradition among Evangelical Christians of viewing the genre of fiction with apprehension and mistrust. The idea that there is something vaguely unsound or improper about the reading and writing of tales that aren’t true is an old one, dating back at least to the seventeenth-century Puritans. The Puritans, as every undergraduate English major knows, shut down the playhouses because (among other reasons) dramatic productions are fabrications.

Over the succeeding generations, those suspicions waned but didn’t die. Defoe went to great lengths in the preface to Robinson Crusoe to deny that . . .

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Barton Swaim works as a speechwriter and is the author of Scottish Men of Letters and the New Public Sphere (Bucknell, 2009). He is a member of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, a church of the Associate Reformed Synod.

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