Are you familiar with the literary term ‘unreliable narrator’? Here’s the definition.
Synonyms for ‘unreliable’ are-undependable, untrustworthy, irresponsible, reckless, fickle, capricious, irregular, erratic, unpredictable, inconstant, mutable, faithless, untrue, flighty, slippery
The first-person narrator is the ‘gatekeeper’ or guide to the story. We see whatever they choose to show us. And sometimes we believe whatever they want us to believe. Even if it isn’t true. It’s important to know what kind of character the narrator depicts. Why? Because that can hint at the reason behind their unreliability. Might it be a child who has a limited understanding of events?(Think-Huck Finn) Could it be a mentally challenged person with certain weaknesses that make them vulnerable to misinterpretation of facts? (Flowers For Algernon) Or is it a criminally minded person who has a special purpose in deceiving other characters -or you as the reader? (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)
Unreliable narrators can come in various forms as well as from different places. Below are 3 books with unreliable -supposedly nonfiction-authors which inevitably create unreliable narrators.
‘The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” was a best selling ‘Christian non-fiction’ book in 2010. Alex was a young boy who was seriously injured in a car accident with his dad in 2004. As a result he became a quadriplegic. The boy made up a story about seeing angels and visiting heaven. It seems that his dad, Kevin Malarkey embellished the story more and then decided to write the book to make some money. Two years later Alex denounced the story, saying the “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” was ‘one of the most deceptive books ever.’
Author Clifford Irving, along with other cohorts, contrived a scheme convincing a large publishing company that he had been hired by the reclusive millionaire, Howard Hughes, to ghost write his autobiography. Later Hughes declared over the phone to several journalists that he didn’t even know Irving. The scandalized author went to prison for 17 months. In 1981 Irving wrote ‘The Hoax’, a book about the events surrounding the fake autobiography conspiracy. It was made into a movie in 2006. Irving was displeased with much of the character depiction.(Somehow ironic)
In 2003 James Frey wrote a book entitled, ‘A Million Little Pieces’. It was the supposed memoir of his drug addiction and recovery. And it was listed as an Oprah book club selection. Later Frey was discovered to be a fraud because he had created and exaggerated much of the contents of his memoir. He and the publisher were berated on Oprah’s show for their deception. ‘A Million Little Pieces’ is now promoted as ‘a work of literature’ containing facts and embellishments.
The first unreliable narrator(liar) in the Bible is Satan who in the form of a snake deceived Eve with half-truth. Cain was the first human type mentioned in the Bible. God asked him where his brother was. “Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” Also, the book of Job contains three unreliable narrators-Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. As Job’s friends they come to comfort him in his time of loss and sorrow. Instead they end up accusing him of sinning and tell him it’s the reason for his suffering. Ultimately, his fourth friend-the reliable narrator- Elihu reveals the truth in his speeches.
An unreliable narrator may inadvertently deceive you because they lack knowledge of the situation. Possibly a result of their naivete or misperception. However, the criminal or evil type narrator has ulterior motives for misleading you. Perhaps they are attempting to hide their guilt by convincing you to suspect another character of the crime. Or maybe they’re narcissists and get amusement from tricking others by messing with their minds.
Whatever the reason for the deception the truth is still hidden. And that can stir up serious conflict in stories, news, novels, and reality. If you have an unreliable narrator in your life then you understand the problems they may propagate. It could be a family member, friend, co-worker, or stranger. They could use one or many devices in an attempt to keep you away from the truth. The falsehood might come in the form of gossip, hearsay, negative judgments, or even flattery.
A froward man soweth strife:
and a whisperer separateth chief friends. Proverbs 16:28
And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:
Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. John 7:24
Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues. Psalm 78:36
Reading a story or novel with an unreliable narrator can be fun, exciting, and a good learning experience. The same cannot be said for a true to life one. Let’s not be found trusting in a liar. What’s more let’s not be or become the liar.
Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight. Proverbs 12:22
The most dangerous ‘narrators’ are those who call themselves minister’s of God’s Word but are deceivers. The Old Testament contains several stories about them. Jesus warned us of them many times.
And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. Matthew 24:11
13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.
14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.
15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. II Corinthians 11
Satan is the ultimate ‘unreliable narrator’ who has one reason for deceiving you. He hates God and His holy character. Therefore he hates all His creation-especially His children who seek to worship and love Him in spirit and in truth. He may whisper in your ear “God hates you. That’s why you’re suffering so much.” He will say things like “God is sick of you-He’s given up on you because you’re worthless.” Anything that you hear, feel, or think must be filtered through the Word of God. (To be continued..)
If you’d like to have a paperback copy of “How To Be Street Smart” for youth then join TLB list and get a chance to be the winner!