Last Thursday I attended Roundtable in south Provo, which is a monthly adult leadership training meeting for scoutmasters. At the end of the one-hour session, the man conducting the session closed by sharing, in paraphrased form, a story titled “The Rifle.” He was moved by the story, I found it interesting and worthwhile, so when I arrived home I went to the Internet to find it. I knew the story was set on Christmas Eve in 1881, that it involved a rifle, that it is told in the first person from the perspective of an adult man named Matt who recalls a Christmas Eve from when he was fifteen years old.
Tonight, as I did last Thursday, I used Google in my attempts to find the story. I used this query: “christmas eve 1881 rifle”. The search results yield several places where the entire text of the story appears, such as:
It is a short story, I invite you to take a couple of minutes to read it.
Now, the third reference includes an introduction to the story, which states: “This is a true story of Christmas in 1881.” However, the fourth reference identifies the author as Rian B. Anderson. If the author’s name is Rian, and the story is true, that does not quite square with the first-person narrator being named Matt. I set off on a search for the truth.
My search eventually took me to amazon.com, where I discovered the book A Christmas Prayer (Christmas Books) by Rian B. Anderson. The story in this book is, in fact, the story introduced to me as “The Rifle.” From a Customer Review at amazon.com I discovered the origins of the story: “The author Rian Anderson has been a sheep herder for most of his life and to quote the inside cover leaf, `He wrote this story one freezing night in the desert while pondering true needs and how to share the true meaning of Christmas with his children.’”
I must admit that when I discovered the story was fiction, at first the impact of the story was diminished. I suppose it is because I felt misled, because the first-person narrative was so convincing that I had assumed the story was true. On reflection, however, I have no reason to believe that the author himself ever presented the story as anything other than fiction. And we all have works of fiction that inspire and uplift us. One that comes immediately to mind for me is “Les Miserables” and the powerful messages conveyed by the experiences and examples of its fictitious characters. “Ben Hur” also comes to mind.
So, I’d encourage you to enjoy and share “The Rifle,” or more properly “A Christmas Prayer.” While the story is fiction, the story is true in this sense – - the message teaches correct and important principles in an uplifting and memorable way.