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Losing A Grip On Reality

by Jeff Phelps on January 8th, 2009

Isn’t it reassuring to know that according to a recent survey nearly one in four people believe Winston Churchill was a myth and more than half think Sherlock Holmes was a real detective who lived in Baker Street?

This is great news for us fiction readers and writers. According to newspaper reports on the survey Britons are ‘losing a grip on fact and fiction.’ But isn’t that what fiction is for? What’s the point having it if you can’t actually believe in it?

So I’m all for blurring the boundaries between fiction and (so-called) reality. Gandhi was produced from the fevered imagination of a film writer, but Wing Commander Bigglesworth lived and flew shaky kites in the south of England from around 1915 to 1964 when he was pensioned off from the RAF at the age of seventy. Heathcliffe is real of course. Richard the Lionheart is made up. Wasn’t he in that cartoon about Robin Hood? And 47% believe Charles Dickens was a myth! In that case who wrote Mr Micawber? Perhaps Dickens was an invention of his own characters after all. Did Oliver Twist write a book called Charles Dickens?

The real irony though is that the highest accolade for a real person is to ‘achieve mythical status’ like Churchill and the highest achievement for a fictional person, like good old Sherlock, is to become human. Sort that one out.

TEST: Be honest – who did you think was real? Who do you wish was fictional.

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