An Orkan becomes a Human
August 28, 2013 | Written by Chip MacGregor
A guest post from novelist Ann Tatlock
“Jesus told his disciples a story….” Luke 18:1, NLT
Remember the Mork Report? In the 70s sit-com “Mork and Mindy,” Robin Williams played the alien Mork from Ork who was sent to earth to study human behavior. At the end of each episode, he reported his findings to Orson, his Orkan boss. Mork often seemed baffled by this strange species called humankind, yet at the same time, he longed to be like them.
I myself am baffled by at least one segment of the human race—those who don’t read novels, claiming fictional stories to be entertainment at best, a waste of time at worst.
A waste of time?
How do we begin to learn as very young children? Most often through stories. What inspires our play and lays the foundation for the games that challenge us and help us grow? Stories. What carries us off to places and times that we otherwise wouldn’t experience and, in so doing, makes them a very real part of our lives? Stories. It’s only natural that this should be so. We were created for stories.
Jesus knew this, for he was himself a storyteller. Not that what he said wasn’t true, but he often wrapped the truth in fictional packages called parables. By doing so, he gained his listeners’ attention, captured their imagination and gave them images they could understand and hold onto. Novelists today are simply doing as Jesus did, offering truths within the context of fictional narratives.
Stories affect us profoundly. Stories have the power to change minds, change hearts, change lives. That’s because, as C.S. Lewis put it, stories have the ability to “baptize the imagination.”
And Lewis should know. He was an atheist until he read Phantastes by George MacDonald. Upon reading this story, Lewis claims his imagination was in a certain sense baptized because his mind was first opened to the possibility of Holiness. That was his initial step in becoming a Christian.
William Murray had a similar experience. The son of the famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Murray was himself an unbeliever until he read Dear and Glorious Physician by Taylor Caldwell, a novel based on the life of the biblical Luke. Murray was so touched by Luke’s story that he bought a Bible. Today, he’s a speaker and evangelist.
Novels a waste of time? Stories mere entertainment?
Every time we read a story written from a Christian worldview, we experience in miniature the grand story written by God himself: creation, fall, conflict, resolution, redemption, happy ending. That is the true story we’re all living in this world, and we see it mirrored in the stories written by people of faith.
As such, stories help us make sense of this broken world and give us hope while we wait for the happily-ever-after. The feedback that I and my fellow novelists have received from readers tells us that novels encourage hearts, challenge minds, inspire forgiveness, help mend relationships, offer beauty, restore the soul.
Mork longed to be human because, unlike on Ork where emotions were discouraged, humans are free to experience such intangibles as love and joy. I think Mork finally expressed his desires fully when some years later he morphed into John Keating.
In the 1989 movie “Dead Poets Society,” Robin Williams (who never quite shed his Mork persona) again plays an alien in a strange land, only this time he’s a maverick in a school of staid conformists. As an English teacher, Keating wants his students to fall in love with words, ideas, literature, poetry. In one great, memorable scene, he asserts, “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
Indeed. Good job, Mork. Welcome to the human race.
Ann Tatlock is the author of Sweet Mercy, Promises to Keep, All the Way Home, Every Secret Thing, Things We Once Held Dear, and several other novels. She has won numerous writing awards, been a guest writing instructor at Taylor University, and serves as an online writing teacher. Ann is represented by Chip MacGregor.