Christianity and Speculative Fiction: Riding a Dark Horse

Originally published at Thus Sayeth the Lord…. You can comment here or there.

If anyone wants a really well thought out essay on this subject, Orson Scott Card spoke about the problems of Evil In Fiction.

When Christians complain about a piece of literature, be it genre or mainstream, often the complaint will focus around the idea that the story is ‘dark.’ To different Christians, the word ‘dark’ means different things: too violent, too emotionally evocative, too many goblins…

“Dark” can also indicate that the reader has taken something out of context– one girl I know described the ending of the Grapes of Wrath as “dark.” (I’m not talking about the family being broken up, or the misery described in the book, but the ACTUAL last scene.) Because she found Rose of Sharon’s nursing of the starving man to be morally objectionable, the story became “dark. In context (the man was starving to death, he had a son to support, there was no other nourishment available) her actions don’t appear to me to be especially malignant; they appear to be humanizing and…well, Christian.

It’s important to understand that, in context, Steinbeck wasn’t being pornographic. He wasn’t advocating orgies. He wasn’t pushing an agenda of immorality on his readers with this specific scene (the Jim Casey dialog at the beginning, well, that’s debatable…)

It’s taken me a long time to write this because the complaint that genre fiction is “dark” is the one that most often gets leveled at my stories. For a while, I thought that the readers were just not used to genre; that educating them to the stylistic nuances of modern fantasy would allow them to see that Eviction Notice wasn’t dark, it was…normal

Then I realized I was crazy. Eviction Notice deals with an alcoholic who killed his son and is haunted by his son’s ghost. It IS dark. It contains scenes of emotional and physical torture– it IS a dark, dark story. But it’s also, I contend, redemptive. Like most of the supernatural/horror stories I love, it is an absolute and concrete demonstration of the power of Goodness over the powers of Misery and Evil. The hero sacrifices himself to save his son’s soul; he endures agony and misery beyond description to rescue those people he loves.

This story should sound vaguely familiar to Christians…

To shy away from the darkness– to ameliorate it, soften it, couch it in language that doesn’t strike the reader’s emotion quite so hard– that’s lying. That’s like…like saying that God never allows terrible things to happen. It’s like telling your kids that sidewalks are cushions, that there are no bullies, that life is (ugh) fair. Showing the darkness, the terrible things, makes the beauty and love that MUST be in life and in stories much more potent.

Darkness is integral to the Christian story– unless you think Christ appeared merely to rant against the scribes and pharisees and spout platitudes about being nice.

I’m not saying that all excesses should be excused. George RR Martin’s most recent Song of Ice and Fire novel is SO traumatic, I had a hard time getting through it. I wasn’t drawn into the story, because the amount of suffering was so intense, it was…well, it was pornographic. There are limits to what can be done (Passion of the Christ went overboard, IMO), and writers should be aware of what they are doing so that they don’t cross them.

2 thoughts on “Christianity and Speculative Fiction: Riding a Dark Horse

  1. Matt

    Life isn’t fair. But we are expected to deal with it brilliantly and make the most of it:

    Luke 16:1-9

    We cannot be entrusted with those gifts most sacred if we cannot be entrusted with our earthly stewardships.

  2. Scott Roberts

    Sorry that it took so long getting your comment posted– my spam filter is set to match anything with a link in it.

    I guess the question is how we’re using our earthly stewardships. My point is that glossing over, or whitewashing evil is NOT a good use of stewardship.

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