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.

11 Comments

  1. Interesting that you should take this viewpoint, Becky.

    I had a long discussion with Dad the other day about the role the media is playing in Christians’ ethical, spiritual, and moral decisions, and how he viewed this as a bad thing.

    Basically, he said that if you’re watching television and movies non-stop, you’re taking your ethics and theology from the movies, you’re going to be very confused morally. I suspect the same thing could be said to be true of fiction books (oh no!)!

    We need to be careful to spend time in the Word getting our bearings and reminding us of God’s principles for discerning right from wrong before we examine what the world is offering. Better yet, we need to spend time in the Word so we have something infinitely better to offer the world!

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  2. An excellent post!

    Thanks for giving me the heads up 🙂

    Sam

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  3. Oh, I forgot to say, I liked “How to Train Your Dragon” too. But yes, those odd messages were there.

    The same messages were even more blatant in “Happy Feet” and a couple of recent 3-D movies we saw at the IMAX. Frankly, the whole tree-hugging political correctness movement is a serious turn-off for me, even though I’m all in favor of less pollution and conservation! But to shove it at us in every movie is–well! Obnoxious.

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  4. “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 completely agree with that.

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  5. Never thought of Christian books like this before, but you’re totally right. Its easiest to let our guard down with books we think are “safe” when we should be filtering them through what God says in his Word, just like anything else we let pass through our lives.

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  6. Still haven’t had a chance to see that movie, but I’ve heard it’s really good. But, yes: The most dangerous lies are the ones that are closest to (or wrapped up in) the truth.

    ~Luke

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  7. Y’know, relating to the whole Eric Wilson discussion below, there’s an interesting flip side to this. Christian fiction gets criticized by some readers and writers for being TOO sanitary or sugarcoated or “safe”–but as you’re pointing out from a negative standpoint here, safe does not necessarily equal powerless, nor is a sanitized story one that has no worldview and no ability to affect readers. Methinks we can write safe fiction that matters too.

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  8. […] music or storytelling is to be more “spiritual” than Jesus was. And as Rebecca Miller recently noted, it’s to fall into the same trend of “safe” storytelling that really isn’t safe. … […]

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  9. […] reading this blog post, which questions ‘safe Christian fiction’ i have to wonder about whether this Amish […]

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  10. I know this is an old post, but I would have to say that there is a wide variety when it comes to Christian fiction and yes, among Amish fiction. I personally am not a fan of Amish fiction and I can guess which book you are talking about when you mention the story above. I believe I wrote the author a letter and stopped reading his books after that series. There are some excellent Christian fiction authors though that do a good job when writing and keep it clean, even with some romance in it.

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  11. Hi, Martha. It’s never too late to comment on a post, in my opinion. 😀

    I agree that there are many excellent Christian fiction authors, and the number is growing. In this post I wanted to give a caution to readers: “safe” doesn’t necessarily mean “true” and shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the story can be read uncritically, without examination. That’s the danger of safe fiction–readers letting their guard down.

    Thanks for taking the time to interact with this post.

    Becky

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