Every Story Needs Conflict

Frog Shower by Andrew Hitchen

by Andrew Hitchen

Recently, when an acquaintance of mine heard our LITClub was reading The Iliad he said, “ I’m not opposed to books with war in them as long as the war has a purpose. I like The Hunger Games. I can see the need for the turmoil and killing but I see no purpose for the war in The Iliad.” I thought for awhile, wondering if I agreed.


Is war in The Iliad senseless?

Does Harry Potter need Hogwarts? Charlotte’s Web a barn? Winnie the Pooh a tree? The Iliad a war? Can we fully grasp the story of Les Miserables without the backdrop of war torn France? Without conflict there just isn’t a story.

Conflict is more than a stage for the actors. It reveals the inner workings of the character’s minds and emotions. We turn the page to find out what happens next, and we aren’t interested in the conclusion of some actions — we want to know what happens to the characters. When Superman flies around saving Lois Lane, we don’t stick around to find out if  she gets saved. We stick around because we want to see her response and his. Conflict reveals the characters’ hearts and minds.

The Iliad is set in Ancient Greece. Achilles is the protagonist. He is robbed. He’s mad and bitter. He wants revenge. He swears a promise that he will not help his country win the war because his leader took what was most precious to him. He is willing to protect his pride and sacrifice a WHOLE country. When his leader Agamemnon apologizes and  offers to give him what he stole and much, much more, Achilles refuses. His countrymen fight and they are losing badly. His best friend is killed. His heart is broken. He finally decides to fight in the war and help his country avoid defeat.

Could Homer have written a story about Achilles and shown us who he wanted Achilles to be without using a war? Of course he could have, but as the author he wanted a country’s well being to hang in the balance because of this one man. And isn’t that what we like in a superhero story?

What connections do you see between the meaning of stories and the conflict within them?

To read more about literary epics visit my friend, Kent Travis and read the post he wrote showing the influence mothers have on great heroes. Kent is the literature professor at Brookhill School. He’s one of those scholarly types that I don’t want to be compared to but they are absolutely necessary.  You will find him very personable, knowledgeable and informative.

Want Help Starting Your Book Club? Read This Post.

Want Help Starting Your Book Club? Read This Post.


  1. I’m puzzled by the comment about the war not being needed in the Iliad. Homer and the Greeks’ worldview was so very different from our own, and they did not see warring as unnecessary or dishonorable. In fact just the opposite. But, I’m preaching to the teacher, now. You know all of that.

    Could he possibly have meant that he thought the level of violence in the Iliad was unnecessary?

    • Maybe but it seems as though he thinks it’s not a good read because the war is there and so violent. He isn’t able to get past the blood and gore and hear the story.

  2. My reading experiences lack the classics. As a slow reader, I shied away from them when young, ( read the comic book version of the Classics) and read nothing but the bible for 30 years following. I am now catching up on reading but remain far behind! I enjoyed your post so much, Ali. Wish I lived close enough to be home schooled by you! This post itself is a bit of a classic! It is a keeper.

    • Marion, what a nice thing to say. If you lived near me, I would most definitely want you here. I too am a slow reader. I admire all our writing friends who read a book or two a week. I’m working on getting faster but it’s a concerted effort on my part.

      By the way, I think the comic version of the classics is a marvelous way to taste them. Not everyone needs a full meal. Don’t feel less of yourself because that’s the route you took. I think you’re awesome.

  3. Ann Abernathy says:

    I love your thought-provoking questions! 😉

    • And I love seeing you here and knowing you’re reading. How in the world are you Ann? What are you reading this month?

  4. The Iliad and The Odyssey are both epic poems handed down in the oral tradition for thousands of years before anyone thought to write them down. To approach them exactly like a modern historical novel is nothing short of foolish. To compare the Iliad to The Hunger Games is also a false analogy: the Iliad truly is a historical account (albeit with much coloring of deities and boasting of great feats) and is meant to sing the praises of the warriors who fought. How could the Iliad NOT include war if it means to sing praises of some of ancient Greece’s most famous warriors?

    I read both the Iliad and the Odyssey at a very young age (12 or 13 the first time), and have approached them again several times as I’ve gotten older, matured, and learned more about literature. I must say, though, that I did read the Hunger Games trilogy and loved them (and hope that the March release of the film does the novel some justice!). I just can’t conceive of attempting to contemplate the “role” of war in the Iliad–the Iliad IS the war!

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