Safe Fiction Is Dangerous (Or, A Review of How to Train Your Dragon)


I caught the animated movie How to Train Your Dragon at our dollar theater today (never mind that it cost $4.00—a different story, but the movie was still a bargain). It’s a wonderful, fun, well-executed, “safe” production.

The main themes involved parent-child relationships and being true to oneself. Good things, for the most part. There was even a touching moment when the dad tells his son he’s proud of him.

I can see parents happily taking their children to see this movie and feeling oh, so good about it. I know I felt uplifted when I walked out of the theater.

But here’s the thing. There are some side issues that parents need to think about and discuss with their children, yet many may draw a false conclusion about the movie because of its happy ending and the reconciliation achieved, father with son and humans with dragons.

Here are some of the tangential (and the elaboration of one central) issues.

  • The decision not to kill a dragon (animal rights?)
  • The existence of a “greater evil” than the one the humans saw (big government? big business? God? Satan? Who is the greater evil extorting the “dragons” today?)
  • The attitude toward war (Father: They’re killing hundreds of us. Son: But we’ve killed thousands of them. They’re just defending themselves.)
  • Be true to yourself. (No matter how “different” you are? No matter that your true self is sinful?)

Am I saying How to Train Your Dragon is a bad movie and people should smash the DVD they bought? Hardly! I loved the movie and would recommend it to anyone. It’s family friendly but it’s artistic, too. At times I thought I was seeing an animated version of Avatar (an animation of an animation—now if that doesn’t say something about the digital revolution).

What I am saying is that “safe” fiction is the most dangerous kind because people are disarmed, no longer alert to possible ideas that may foster a false worldview.

Ideas, of themselves, are not dangerous. I can listen to atheist Christopher Hitchens in a debate about the existence of God and be unaffected by his worldview because I am alert.

Ideas that float in under the radar, however, are another thing. They enter unchallenged, co-exist with the truth, and someday after they’ve been fortified, may even challenge the truth to a shootout.

Media has taken this approach to introducing a shift in worldview through “safe” stories for the last thirty years at least. But the reality is, “safe” Christian fiction is no more safe than the media brand of safe.

I read one book put out by a Christian imprint that was all about lust. The heroine refused to marry the hero (because he wasn’t a Christian) but didn’t refuse his kisses and didn’t stop dwelling on them or longing for them. The story came to one titillating climax after another. But it was safe. No bad words (so it wasn’t actually “edgy” 😛 ). No bedroom scenes.

But set aside books that are stretching the normal boundaries. Look at Amish romance. Does anyone know or care how Christian the Amish actually are? Are these books addressing legalism? (I’m asking, because I haven’t read any.) Church divisions? (Amish churches have divided over whether a woman’s dress must be double-breasted or not, whether or not a hook-and-eye is acceptable, and many other such particulars. You learn these things when you accompany your grandmother to a family reunion and everyone else there is Amish.)

More importantly, are readers asking questions about the pastoral culture they lose themselves in? Or are we letting our guard down? Because it’s about a group of Christians. And Christian companies are publishing it. And Christian bookstores are selling it.

As I see it, if “safe” fiction makes us drop our guard, then it is the most dangerous fiction of all.

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