My Friend Amy’s Faith in Fiction Saturday – Escapism

I need to explain. On Saturday I went to my friend Julie Carobini‘s book signing (latest release is Sweet Water – and you can read my review here) held at a bookstore in my corner of SoCal.

Yes, I’m fully aware the title to this post says “My Friend Amy” not “Julie.” 😉 (There is method in my madness!)

As it turned out, Amy, author of the blog My Friend Amy, was also at the book signing (which I discovered, was also for Mike Yorkey, co-author with Tricia Goyer of the historical novel The Swiss Courier).

So today I stopped by My Friend Amy’s and discovered that she has instituted Faith in Fiction Saturday’s in which she will introduce a topic or ask a question, then those who wish can blog on the same. Cool idea! 😎 And as it happens, I want to blog about the latest topic:

Which brings me to today’s question…is Christian fiction too often characterized by escapism? And if it is..do you think it’s truly healthy for Christians to constantly take in messages of faith that are light or too easily resolved? Is it okay to have a less than happy ending in a Christian fiction book?

Let me start with the last (since the last shall be first 😛 ). I definitely think it is okay to have a less than happy ending in a Christian novel. First, such an ending seems desirable according to Hooked, the Writer’s Digest instruction book I’m currently reading. The most satisfying ending according to this author, Les Edgerton, is a win-lose ending. I suspect this is because it mirrors real life, and certainly the Christian worldview of life.

Our experience on earth is hard and then we die, but the loss leads to great gain—eternity with our loving God and Father. It’s the idea of grieving with hope.

Which leads to the other parts of the question. Is it truly healthy for Christians to constantly take in messages of faith that are light or too easily resolved? I don’t think it’s healthy at all. Once in a while, sure. There are some days that seem to require a light-hearted approach, whether from laughter or “it all comes right in the end” stories. But just like an exclusive diet of chocolate, as yummy as it is, does not make for a healthy body, exclusively reading fiction that sugar-coats reality instead of revealing it isn’t healthy for the soul, in my opinion.

A sugar-coated ending to the “story” of Jesus’s life would have had Him calling on those legions of angels at His command and crucifying Pilate and the Pharisees on the cross meant for Him. Instead, He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. Nothing sweet about the end of His earthly life. And how glad I am that He was willing to make the sacrifice He did. Because He walked the lose-win storyline, I can too.

I think, because we Christian authors know joy awaits, and we wish to encourage through our stories, we may give the false message that everything ends well. What we need to be showing is that even when everything doesn’t end well, the believer has reason to hope.

Now to the first question: is Christian fiction too often characterized by escapism? Some is, and the temptation is for all of us Christian authors to unintentionally write an escapist story.

I tend to think, though, that the stories that dig deep, and explore truths that aren’t easy or obvious, won’t feel like escapism even if they have a happy-happy ending. The characters will be changed by their experiences, not untouched by them, and that doesn’t feel like escapist literature. The escape kind has the characters acting as if death and wounds and fear vanish after a good night’s sleep. 🙄

So what are your thoughts about escapist literature?

7 Comments

  1. Here again we incorporate different meanings into “escapism” literature. The non-fiction devotees insist all fiction is escapism. I assume your definition here is basically what I call “fluff” where the everyday survival problems are written about in a fun or non-critical manner with not a lot of depth and resolved proficiently by the end of the story with a hearty amen. (Excuse facetiousness. 😉 )

    Susan Meissner wrote a novel titled Blue Heart Blessed with her usual low-key, sometimes dry humor and wit, a dose of sarcasm, heavy on the broken heart with not-so-heavy conflict and a neat and satisfying conclusion. Readers familiar with Susan’s writing know there are layers to her stories and she writes with a wordsmith’s level of attention to the writing. This little novel was lighter than most of her work but I wouldn’t call it fluff. And it had just enough layers to “escape” being labeled escapism for its genre. It was fun but meaningful.

    A steady diet of horror or thriller or romance or fantasy . . . it can all be escapist to the reader. Is it beneficial for anyone to constantly seek the same escapes? Hmm. You’ve given me fodder for a blog post, Becky. I think I’ll tackle “endings” for a start. 😉

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  2. Great post. And thanks for telling us about Amy’s Saturday deal.

    I would like to point out that Jesus’ story did have a happy ending. He rose from the dead.

    His black night of the soul was hanging on that cross and refusing to call the legions of angels to save him even when he was at the blackest moment–My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?–and all appeared lost. He chose to sacrifice himself. That was the climax.

    And then he was raised from the dead. He was rewarded for his obedience and raised to the highest place of honor.

    that is what good writers do with their happy endings. They show the struggle and the sacrifice before the pay-off. As you put it, that is the lose-win storyline. He lost his earthly life, as you say, and he won his eternal glory.

    So I think you are precisely right when you point out that the problem with escapist literature is that there is no struggle. No lose, only win.

    I also agree with your point that the characters have to have scars. Jesus had the hole in his hands and his side for Thomas to poke, and our characters should be scarred, but I have no problem with them being completely victorious. I think Jesus was and I think the end of our story is that we also will be completely victorious. Our battle wounds will be sweet. All of it will be redeemed. I don’t see that as escapist.

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  3. (Beautifully said, Sally.)

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  4. Hi, Nicole, I tried to tackle the definition of escapist fiction in my post today, even referencing your “fluff” term. As I wrote, I realized I think there are two kinds of escapist fiction. I’ll be interested in what you think.

    And you have me curious about your post. I need to get over to your blog.

    Becky

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  5. Sally, of course you’re right about Jesus. I tried to distinguish between His earthly life and His life. His is the ultimate story, the perfect example of losing to win. I think it’s why those stories resonate so with the majority of us. Donald Maass said self-sacrifice was the ultimate ingredient that made a character larger than life.

    Great point that Jesus bears His scars even in His glorified body. So characters that walk away from tragedy unscathed physically or emotionally don’t paint a believable picture.

    It’s why I hated Raiders of the Lost Ark. Hear me out before anyone starts throwing stones! (I feel the same way about 007 movies, the ones I’ve tried to watch on TV). In Raiders, the protag walked away from near death time and time again, with no scars, no apparent effects at all. I thought I was going to a believable action adventure movie, not a piece of escapist silliness that ended with misrepresentation of the Ark of the Covenant.

    I agree, Sally, that a story with a happy ending in which the character has struggled and bears the scars in the end isn’t escapist.

    I do think the struggle is part of the difference. But the Raiders protag struggled. It’s more about the internal struggle, perhaps. As I said in my post today, the non-escapist fiction makes me think.

    Becky

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  6. Yay! I’m so glad you participated because this is an excellent discussion over here!

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  7. Hi Rebecca–just wanted to thank you for the “shout-out” you gave my book, “Hooked.” I’m just tickled pink that you found it helpful! That’s what it’s all about. Best of luck to you in your own writing. Blue skies, Les Edgerton

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