Throughout history people have wanted to say something profound, controversial, rebellious, to express themselves when the mainstream culture forbids it, or to just entertain the world. These people had one medium through all of it: plays, books, and stories are more than a way to pass on a good yarn; but a way to teach, to learn, to defend, or to rebel. Words can be stopped, people silenced, but as hard as they try it is impossible to keep the printed word from spreading in the face of adversity.
A story is the perfect way to handle controversial issues. In the U.S.S.R., stories set in the time of the Czars were hailed as great examples of why communism was better, but what the communist leaders didn’t realize was these great Russian writers were using their stories to poke holes in communism itself — a story about modern times and issues but set in the past is one of the best ways to get controversial ideas out into the open.
A story that is both a good yarn and a stirring thought provoker are the best examples of the art. Saying things on many levels is the reason behind stories, from the parables of the Bible, to Aesop’s fables, to the Homeric epics all were meant to use a story to help ideas take flight and form. Truly understanding a story does not come from Cliff Notes or what a friend tells you in the hall, it comes from reading and quite possibly re-reading each and every word. Not from just reading the story, but also reading the moral; not reading what the author says, but what the author is saying. This is the key to reading not just the story or the moral, but into the very enlightenment and wisdom the author is trying to convey.
Of course this is not to say that every tawdry beach novel is equivalent with the works of Dante, or Shakespeare but every good author who writes for the love of it — rather than the money or fame — leaves a little piece of themselves in every book. That little piece is the key to the understanding of not just the story but also the meaning behind the story.
A well crafted story takes one of two forms those that are thought and those that create thought. Those that are thought are those were the author is kind enough to tell you the story and then tell you the meaning. Those that create thought are far superior, the author does not presume to tell you what to think but instead allows you to realize it on your own, and in the process achieving far more than those who read and do not understand.