Fantasy Friday: The Reality Of Hope

Novel cover collage2Christian fiction isn’t realistic, or so some charge. After all, there’s no cussing, no sex, and everything turns out happily ever after. The last point actually isn’t true, depending, of course, on what kind of “happy” a person is talking about. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Today at Speculative Faith our guest blogger, Shannon McDermott (yes, the same Shannon McDermott who is up for this month’s CSFF Award), wrote an inspiring post entitled “The Echoes of Christmas” in which she discusses what a story would look like if it were written as an expression of Christmas-all-year-long. She pulled out three responses that Christmas generates: joy, wonder, and hope.

For some reason, that triplet rang true to me, but especially hope. In some ways the world this year seemed more prone to despair. The US supposedly is hurtling toward a fiscal cliff, children were gunned down in their school, and no one seems to have an answer for our ailments, or at least one we can agree on.

Stories seem to reflect this kind of harsh reality, whether novels like The Hunger Games or TV programs like Revolution. And in many ways, Christian writers are being told to get with the program. If feels very much like a Job’s-wife kind of admonition–curse God and die. Except for the dying part. But curse, cuss, swear–let the world know that Christians see the way things really are.

Oddly, I don’t hear those same voices saying Christian writers should show the reality of abortion in their stories, or homelessness, or drug trafficking or gang violence or illegal immigration or homosexuality or corporate fraud or government corruption or divorce or an almost endless list of “real.” Instead we’re told, in the same manner as a dripping faucet, that Christian fiction needs to use cussing or cursing or swearing in order to be real.

And sex. Once in a while we’re told that sex ought to get into the stories, though no one seems to think graphic sex scenes are OK.

I have to say, I’m stuck on the definition of “real.”

Over and over I read from Christians in the writing community that the Bible is one of the darkest books around, that it didn’t sugarcoat such things as rape or adultery or murder. That look at the Bible, however, isn’t comprehensive. The Bible doesn’t have a “The End” after the story of David having Bathsheba’s husband killed after he’d slept with her. There isn’t even a “The End” after Judah gets led away into exile or one after Jesus’s crucifixion. There isn’t one after Stephen was martyred or Paul was arrested.

In truth, the Bible is all about hope–in the Old Testament, God’s chosen people hoped for the coming Messiah. And guess what the New Testament is about? The first coming and now the expectant waiting of the Church for the return of that same Messiah.

We long and we hope. We suffer and we hope. We sin and we hope.

As far as I’m concerned, stories that show or engender hope are real stories.

Cussing/cursing/swearing is not what a story is about. There are lots of ways to make a story seem real as far as how characters are painted. And people don’t generally pick a novel to read because they like the cussing/cursing/swearing. The choose a book because they believe they’ll like the story.

I suggest stories with hope will ring the most true and seem the most real.

Published in: on December 28, 2012 at 6:39 pm  Comments (8)  
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8 Comments

  1. You know, Becky, I was never more disappointed in a book than in C.S. Lewis’s third book in the trilogy, and it didn’t even have to do with swearing! It was the harsh “reality” of the description of the end times. It was the unbalanced weight of a continual onslaught of evil descriptions. In contrast, Peretti’s This Present Darkness left me with a desire to read more. I think it was all about the issue of hope.

    • Peggy, when you say “trilogy,” are you referring to Lewis’s space trilogy, the third being That Hideous Strength,” I believe. If so, yes, I found it very dark and didn’t like it at all. But I read it years and years ago and need to re-read it, to see what I think now.

      Peretti didn’t strike me as overly dark when I read his books, but I thought they began to move toward more darkness, and I had no desire to read the one he co-authored with Dekker.

      Becky

  2. I agree that Christians should write stories that show hope. However, I think Christian stories sometimes suffer from trying to do what no human writer can do. We can’t realistically portray the ultimate Happy Ending.

    I think the best stories end not with neither with cheery optimism nor with nihilistic despair. I think the best stories end with a hopeful longing, a sadness mingled with comfort — a painful sort of joy. The ending of The Return of the King is not really happy, but in both the book and movie versions, it is powerful, transforming, and even joyful. That ending reflected the reality of Christ’s Ascension. He had to leave, even after He was joyfully victorious. Yes, He is coming again, and then there will be unqualified happiness, joy that no longer needs to go with tears. But we have no idea what that will be like. The ultimate Happy Ending is so far outside of human experience and comprehension that I think our attempts to mirror it in fiction are often cheap, sickeningly over-sweet. This is the problem that I ultimately had with The Blood of Kings trilogy. I don’t think Christian authors should be so ambitious as to try to mirror the ultimate consummation of all joy.

    This doesn’t mean that I don’t like hope. I read fiction because I need hope. Even without considering the big picture and the ultimate Happy Ending, I think all of the sub-stories in the Scripture end with hope, in some way. Even the fatalistic Book of Ecclesiastes is hopeful and joyful to me. (Maybe “fatalistic” is a bad word to describe that book of the Bible; “nihilistic” would be definitely be wrong.) It’s just that hope is not equal to happiness. There is always hope, because God is in control, because Jesus lives. There is never complete hapiness in this present world, because even the best and most joyful moments are clouded with uncertainty. Therefore, it is unrealistic to show the characters end up perfectly happy and content. Even if we understand the happy ending of a novel to be an echo of the truth of the glorious return of Christ, it is impossible for any human author to capture that fulness of joy, because we don’t know uncompromised joy.

    • Bainespal, I thought Lewis did a credible job of showing the ultimate happiness in The Last Battle. No, it’s not something that a contemporary writer can show. But all, speculative, historical, romance, or whatever, can show hope.

      I agree about Return of the King. I happen to be finishing it right now–just read the retaking of the Shire. That chapter ends with Sam saying it’s not over because they still have work to do. It’s happy but not perfectly happy, and then there’s Frodo’s pain and weariness and eventual departure which is a picture of Christ leaving us still here, still working, yet joyful .

      I also agree that I’m not as fond of stories that have every detail wrapped up happily (IE The Blood of Kings series), though I know others really like that. Maybe that’s one of those preference variables.

      I definitely agree that hope does not equate with happiness, and I think that might be where some writers go wrong. Surely you’re right that no human author can fully capture the joy awaiting us, but we can’t “fully” capture any part of the human experience. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, I don’t think. The writer should decide what part to try and capture, however, and perhaps not try for the whole enchilada.

      Becky

  3. I don’t entirely agree with your take on edginess in christian fiction. Sometimes to show hope, we need to be realistic about perils and downfalls. But I really do like how you emphasized the need of positive virtues as well, and I agree with you on that.

    • If by “edginess,” DM, you mean the use of cussing/swearing and sex, then I understand people have differing opinions on this. What I don’t understand, which I alluded to, is why these have become the cause célèbre of Christian fiction when there are so many other serious, realistic issues that I believe ought to be part of our stories.

      For example, do women today get abortions and think it isn’t wrong? Absolutely. That’s real and yet where are people clamoring for stories that show this aspect of reality? The only stories involving abortion are undoubtedly showing it to be wrong, not showing it to be accepted by mainstream society. Yet we aren’t haranguing authors and publishers for not having such realism in their stories. No, we’ve picked on cussing/swearing and sex. Why?

      Aside from that, I absolutely agree that to show hope, we need to show that which challenges hope. I’m just finishing Tolkien’s Return of the King, and I was struck again by how dark the story is–evil is winning most of the way. And yet, probably because I’ve been thinking about hope, and even had written about how the characters continued on in the face of hopelessness, I was more powerfully aware of light and joy and persistent hope. Samwise, for example, led Frodo away from the cracks of doom to an island surrounded by fire simply because he said it was his nature to hope. Nothing could have been more hopeless, and yet he acted according to the hope within him rather than according to the circumstances around him. That’s a powerful statement, only made possible by the darkness and danger those characters faced.

      So, no, I’m not saying a story should be void of darkness. However, darkness is not the end, and I get the feeling that some are pushing for stories with ambiguous endings that would suggest darkness is the end. I guess that’s a large part of my disagreement with some recent Christian fiction criticism.

      Thanks for the link, BTW. I appreciate you engaging in this discussion.

      Becky

      • Hmm, good question. Maybe it’s because abortion as a subject for Christian writers doesn’t seem interesting because it’s so settled. If you’re going to write a story about it, even a realistic one, the ending isn’t in doubt, and it’s going to be really hard to keep it from being a tract or sermon. A realistic book on it would have to focus on hypocrisy-the gap between ideals and actions under stress, and that would be very edgy indeed. I’m tempted to say “challenge accepted!” and add it to the ever growing queue of things to write.

        Thanks for letting me reply.

  4. [...] I don’t agree entirely with Rebecca Eula Miller’s stance on edgy fiction in her post here, she makes an incredibly strong point about the reality of hope in Christian fiction, and the need [...]


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