What does great science need? The suspension of disbelief…

“Lay people often envision scientists in white coats, perched on stools in immaculate laboratories, clipboards on their laps, working out problems. Most scientific discoveries, however, come in a flash, often when the scientist is not in the laboratory at all. Einstein’s theory of relativity came to him full-blown, and only later did he work out the equations to prove it. Then, because he was a genius but not very good at mathematics, he made several mistakes that other scientists had to point out to him. Both the scientist and the science fiction writer understand that imagination, improvisation, and intuition are as important as rational thinking. For a good many centuries we have denigrated the subconscious, intuitive self and elevated the conscious, intellectual self. We have forgotten that the conscious self is only that small tip of the iceberg, whereas the subconscious self is the larger part below the surface.” (103)

L’Engle continues: A “sense of wonder constantly prods the imagination of the writer of fantasy or science fiction, and the child, whose sense of wonder has not yet been blunted, goes right along with it: What would life on Saturn, with all its rings, be like? Does a galaxy think? Is it a sentient entity? Do our mitochondria know that they are living with us? There is no end to the questions the sense of wonder prods us to ask, and each question can easily lead to a story.” (104)

“Any story, whether myth, fantasy, fairy tale, or science fiction, explores and moves beyond daily concerns to wonder. A story, instead of taking a child away from real life, prepares him to live in real life with courage and expectancy. A child denied imaginative literature is likely to have more difficulty understanding cellular biology or post-Newtonian physics than the child whose imagination has been stretched by fantasy and science fiction.  The teacher who, with the child, enjoys this stretching (and the stretching of muscles causes healthy growing pains) is aware of human potential. Such a teacher does not neglect the child who does not “fit in” or who cannot come to grips with the curriculum. Thomas Edison was withdrawn from school in the second grade because his teacher considered him uneducable; his mother’s faith, her conviction that he was not stupid, led her to tutor him at home. It is not always the bright and well-adjusted child who has the imagination to leap beyond convention to truth, a truth which may upset “grown-ups.”” (105)

“A successful story, no matter how soaring the fantasy or how offbeat the science, must be believable. A child must be encouraged to suspend disbelief.” (107)

Ref: Madeleine L’Engle Childlike Wonder and the Truths of Science Fiction Children’s Literature, Volume 10, 1982, pp. 102-110


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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