In Plato’s famous work, Republic, he mentions that poets should not be tolerated in any ideal society. The reason is that they spread lies about the world and therefore deceive people regarding reality. For example, a poet may say that humans can conjure up the dead if they dig up bodies and perform resurrection chants over them, having their eyes bulging out of their sockets. If you believe this, says the poet, then your loved ones will return. Reality, of course, says that no matter how ardently you chant, the dead will not rise, in spite of your loving intentions. A more serious example can be drawn to Adolf Hitler in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Since Hitler used emotional (sometimes poetic) rhetoric to hoodwink the masses to follow his evil causes, it only serves to show you the wicked purposes that poetry can be put to. If people looked to reality, says Plato, they can live in a much happier, reasonable way and avoid dangerous falsehoods. Not only poetry, but fiction, for that matter, can only lead to perpetual sin.
This kind of idea is a lot like the “Harry Potter encourages witchcraft” argument that caused a lot of curious kids to bow their heads in disappointment as their parents forbade them to read what is quite arguably one of the greatest sagas of fantasy ever written. All you need to do is ask a Harry Potter fan and they will tell you how wonderful the books are.
Why are they wonderful? Because they are entertaining, enlightening, funny, seriously satirical (and even realistic! gasp), despite the fact that it is “unrealistic fiction.” Fiction does so much that even attempting to label it just so you can understand it is somewhat of an insult. You do not have to “explain” everything to appreciate fiction. One of it’s greatest aspects is that it defies explanations; the imagination itself, being so diverse in its essence, cannot be put into a rational box. Who can fully tell you why a story is awesome? You are simply in awe of its effects and rest in that bliss alone. You don’t have to turn it into a math equation. The more you do that, the more literature itself tends to lose its beauty. You start unnecessarily scrutinizing everything you read, which is just plain unnecessary. It creates a needless strain on your mind and belittles the aesthetic flow that writing can bring to the reader.
Charles Dickens warned his readers in Hard Times that living solely by “facts,” and not imagination was detrimental to one’s emotional health. Because Thomas Gradgrind rams scientific, dictionary terms down his daughter’s throat, she wails to him in anger that his advice has ruined her life. Her father’s concepts were just stark facts that never encouraged creativity. When people disregard imagination, emotion, creativity, and just plain fun in the name of science, realism, rationality, and logic, they spoil so much pleasure. There will be no color to life at all, just a bunch of formulas.
Not all writers share Dickens’s views; many authors in the 18th century looked at fiction through the lenses of rules and formulas, like Pope and Swift. The Romantics who came later, however, argued that imagination was more important than reason. I agree with the Romantics, though I do not think logic is evil or that a story can never excite the intellect or reason. They most certainly can. But when it comes to value, I value the imagination more than I ever could science. That’s just the way I am. I disagree heavily with Plato that poets are evil; in spite of the fact that language can be used for sinister purposes, that can’t be an excuse to just be skeptical of every storyteller.