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The Healing Benefits of Literary Fiction


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

These memorable words so elegantly established the framework for Charles Dickens’ literary classic A Tale of Two Cities. These words also represent the see-saw of emotions a person dealing with depression must face.

Life becomes a daily struggle. You experience tremendous highs coupled with terrible lows. I understand because I suffer from depression.

Author Lucy Horner believes that reading fiction has wonderful healing benefits. In her book Tolstoy Therapy: A Fiction Prescription, Horner coined the phrase “bibliotherapy”. “Bibliotherapy” is when you use literature to help you deal with negative feelings. In a sense, you relax and lose yourself in your favorite book.  You envision the lives of the protagonists and antagonists, the external circumstances swirling around them and the internal demons plaguing them.  Although this explanation might seem too simplistic, I feel the notion does offer some merit. While a book can’t solve the serious symptoms of depression, at the very least, it could quiet your spirit.

Anna Karenina and War and Peace.  Okay, I don’t know if living the lives of Tolstoy characters is the recipe for zen.

Maybe some people like to explore “dark” fiction when their lives start to unravel. If the protagonist in a story is dealing with tragic circumstances, what you are facing in your own life might not seem as traumatic. You may even uncover your own hidden reservoir of courage.

One of my favorite novels is Gone with The Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Scarlett O’Hara is a fiery heroine determined to become a “phoenix reborn” after the financial and personal losses she sustained during the Civil War.

When I think of Scarlett and all she had to do to rebuild her life, she is the epitome of healing after loss. Winston

Graham’s Poldark  and John Jakes’  North and South embrace similar themes of personal courage and healing.

So, the next time life becomes too overwhelming, you might find a visit to Hogwarts or a trip through Middle Earth might do the trick for refreshing your soul.

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