Safe Fiction – Part 5

The other night I was talking with a group of friends, and the topic of “safe” fiction came up. Since two of these Christians are moms and the other is a school teacher, they had a vested interest in the topic. At one point, we began discussing The Wizard of Oz, primarily the film version so well-known today.

In most circles, this book and movie would be an illustration of safe fiction, the kind we want our children to read. After all, it upholds the importance of home, the value of courage, heart, wisdom and honesty.

From Wikipedia:

Regarding the original Baum storybook, it has been said: “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is America’s greatest and best-loved home grown fairytale. The first totally American fantasy for children, it is one of the most-read children’s books . . . and despite its many particularly American attributes, including a wizard from Omaha, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has universal appeal.” The film itself is widely considered to be one of the most well known, beloved films of all time, and was one of the earliest films to be deemed “culturally significant” by the United States Library of Congress.

“Culturally significant” is an apt description, I think. The movie and book, in my opinion, prepared several generations to accept secular humanism in place of Christianity. A bold statement, perhaps, but not without grounds.

First, the author himself, L. Frank Baum, was a theosophist. Again from Wikipedia:

Theosophy is a doctrine of religious philosophy and metaphysics … [which] holds that all religions are attempts by the “Spiritual Hierarchy” to help humanity in evolving to greater perfection, and that each religion therefore has a portion of the truth.

No wonder, then, Dorothy and friends arrive in Oz only to discover that the wizard, as the supposedly all powerful ruler (and therefore a God figure), is a fraud. No wonder in the end, good witch Gilda tells Dorothy she’s had the ability to go home all along, she just had to find it inside her. No wonder the Tinman discovered he had heart all along, the lion learned he had courage, and the scarecrow, brains. Throughout the story, there is this strong thread, You can do it, you can, you can.

And what a popular message that is today. Self-help seminars, books, infomercials, all proclaiming this belief in the human spirit. How many athletes say that in wrap-up interviews! We just had to believe in ourselves.

So now in western culture we have Man, clawing up behind Satan, trying to replace God. In part because of a piece of “safe” fiction.

There were, I’ve heard, some objections to the movie when it came out—because it had witches in it, I was told. So if the good and bad witches had been replaced by good and bad shoe salesmen, the problems would be taken care of?

The search for safe fiction can be a dangerous, dangerous pursuit. It looks for whitewashed walls, all the while oblivious that a tomb may be behind them.

5 Comments

  1. About Tim Downs, Nicole said yesterday: “… if he intended to include a Christian worldview, honestly, I think he failed.”

    That may be true (I haven’t read Downs’ books), but I think there is another half to the concept: perhaps Tim’s books don’t promote an anti-Christian worldview. I think that’s important as we see by the Wizard of Oz example.

    I want my writing to weave a positive message, but that message contrasts best against darkness. As humans, we learn to tell the truth, not because truth is so appealing, but because lying has dire consequences–when we get caught (and, of course, that’s exactly what we do to our characters).

    Maybe a deeper question around the “Safe Fiction” theme is what constitutes showing a Christian worldview? Is it enough to show a partial Christian worldview, or are we obligated to lay it all out? Did L. Frank Baum lay out the entire secular humanist worldview? I don’t think so. Rather, I believe, he planted seeds.

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  2. Good thoughts, Rich. I am one who does not believe that every work of fiction must contain the plan of salvation. I think it’s important to tell the truth, and one component of the truth is that the world is a fallen place and people are fallen creatures, all in need of a Savior.

    Many argue we don’t need those reminders, but I disagree. The movement born from secular humanism, that Man is good and just needs to look inside himself, is gaining ground, far more rapidly than I dreamed possible.

    Christianity and committed Christians and the idea of lostness is now becoming the brunt of jokes. More on that later.

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Becky

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  3. Tim’s Bug Man novels don’t contain an “anti-Christian” slant, but neither do they exhibit the principles of Christianity in action in his protagonist. There’s a hint of softening in the latest story, but nothing that would point to God as the reason for it. In fact, this argumentative, coarse and stubborn character is actually extra annoying in parts of this book.

    So, I’m not sure what kinds of seeds might be assumed to be planted in this series of entertaining but general market books.

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  4. P.S. And, believe me, you see the contrast of darkness and light in my stories which have been termed “edgy”, not that I fully enjoy that term. But there’s no shortage of portraying “real” in my books. And, no, they aren’t “safe” for anyone that likes or needs to be shielded from uncomfortable issues, those affectionately known as “the prairie romance” crowd.

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  5. Nicole, from the conversation aired on Family Life Today, I got the impression that Tim wasn’t trying to point to God. What he wanted to do was to raise questions. Because I haven’t read the books, I have no idea what kind of questions or if he succeeded on that level at all.

    I do think there are books that should do that. I think Christian publishers should publish those. Should they be labeled “Christian fiction”? Well, we’re back at the definition of the term again, aren’t we.

    But here, I’m more concerned about the concept of “safe,” as in, if it’s in this store or between covers with this imprint on it, then it is “safe.” That’s just where our culture is. Check the brain at the door and march in lockstep parroting group think.

    We Christians, above others, should reject this kind of way of responding to our culture. We need to be the discerners, those examining what’s before us to see how it measures against Scripture. And we need to be teaching those who come after us to do the same.

    Becky

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