Tending Our Own Gardens
If you want to tell a story of murder, war crimes, kidnapping, slavery, rape, and religious hypocrisy, how do you do it? How can you make such events bearable—and even enjoyable—to read? Do you present the facts plainly, almost like reporting, or do you develop fictional characters and events to represent all these things and engage your readers' sympathy? If you are Voltaire, you do both at once.
Candide is at once an obvious work of fiction, with gross exaggerations and impossible plot twists, and also a cold-blooded report of the crimes humans commit against each other for a variety of reasons. You could go through Candide with a pencil and mark events in each chapter that really happened—the Thirty Years' War, the Lisbon earthquake, African slavery in the New World—and then go through the book again and mark everything that is impossible, from a man surviving three executions, including burning at the stake, to travels to a mystical hidden kingdom, where the streets are lined with jewels and the sheep are red.
The fictional elements, be they comic relief or unattainable paradise, keep you reading through an otherwise unbearable story.
Actor, Producer, and Writer:
"The great irony then is, the real, mature wisdom Candide comes to is wealth has not made him happy. [Nor has] success, finding love, getting the girl of his dreams. The only possibility he has of happiness is being in the real world, connecting himself to the earth represented by this small farm and doing real work, simple, real work on a daily basis."