The Epic Nature of Great Fiction

Today’s post by author Latayne Scott of our sister blog, Novel Matters | @NovelMatters

A dear friend once told me that people must “once and for all, give up the doctrine of coincidence. ” What he meant is that when unexpected incidents or ideas happen to occur concurrently or in proximity to one another, you must reject the idea that such things were random and should instead look for a divine hand, and divine messages.

Such a coincidence happened to me recently. I’ve been exploring the idea that the building of faith and character comes in three phases (and, in my own life, in the midst of painful experiences.) The middle phase is one in which victory seems absolutely impossible.

The “co-incidence ” of ideas—or perhaps, a collision of concepts –came when that idea of the phases collided into a passage I was reading from The Odyssey. If you’ve not read it lately (or at all), it is the very essence of great novel structure: a good person has everything, loses it and even seems to become beyond hope of ever regaining it.

In the middle of the story, a great monster, the Cyclops, has eaten some of his men and when the hero Odysseus sails away from him, the beast roars out at him across the waves:

Hear me, Poseidon. . .grant that Odysseus, who styles himself Sacker of Cities and son of Laretes, may never reach his home in Ithaka.

But if he is destined to reach his native land, to come once more to his own house and see his friends again,

let him come late,

in evil plight,

with all his comrades dead,

 in someone else’s ship,

and find troubles in his household.

But when Odysseus does get home, all is set right. He dispatches the spongers who have been trying to seduce his wife, regains his estate, and lives happily ever after.

But—the satisfaction of following him through all his troubles (as indeed the curse of the Cyclops came true), comes exactly BECAUSE he lost everything — except hope.

Here’s the great truth that hit me: The greater the obstacles, the greater the rotund and satisfied feeling we have at seeing the resolution. That’s a timeless idea.

What novel have you read lately that overcame obstacles in such a satisfying—shall we say epic?—way?  


4 Responses to The Epic Nature of Great Fiction

  1. Kathleen Popa May 24, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Latayne, thank you for this wonderful post. It’s comforting to think that some recent coincidences are actually a sign of God’s calming hand. I know you’ve had first hand experience with epic catastrophes. You encourage me greatly.

  2. Latayne C. Scott May 25, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    You are so welcome, Katy. Isn’t it amazing that this “story structure,” which is so satisfying, is so ancient?

  3. Cindy Wolfe Boynton May 25, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Andrew Pyper’s The Demonologist, where a dad and college professor has to fight his own and an actual demon to get his daughter back. Great story, such a clever and well thought-out plot, and solid writing. An intellectual horror story.

  4. Latayne C Scott May 26, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Ooooh! That sounds like a cool book! Thank you, Cindy!

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