Monday, May 01, 2017

Why You Should Read Fiction

Contemporary literature is full of broad gaps. The author Margaret Atwood notes that her own writing was influenced by Beatrix Potter, whom she describes as a master of oblique discourse. In The Tale of Mr. Tod, Benjamin Bunny and Peter Rabbit are in pursuit of Tommy Brock, a badger who has captured Benjamin’s children in a bag and is headed home, where he will likely eat them. On the way, the two rabbits pass the house of Cottontail Bunny, and ask if her husband, a black rabbit, is home, presumably to ask for his help in confronting Tommy Brock. In response, Cottontail says nothing about her husband, but simply states, “Tommy Brock had rested twice while she watched him.” As the two rabbits continue their pursuit, Peter says, “He was at home; I saw his black ears peeping out of the hole.” Benjamin replies, “They live too near the rocks to quarrel with their neighbours …”

Atwood writes, “At the age of four, I quickly grasped that Cottontail had lied, but the ‘rocks’ remark took some thought. Finally, I got it: Tommy Brock has a shovel, and those that live in burrows too near the rocks are easy to catch by digging. Long-term craft lesson: no need to spell everything out because the reader is the co-creator of the story and can be depended on to pick up the dropped clues.”

Atwood was undoubtedly a precocious 4-year-old, but there is evidence that average children can pick up such dropped clues, and that this process not only activates mentalizing networks in the brain, but that it hones these skills even more than the explicit labeling of mental states.

Ms. Potter is right up there with Shakespeare AFAIC.

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