Hope Or Truth


In my post today over at Spec Faith, I’m asking questions about why dystopian fiction is so popular these days, especially among young adults.

There are some great comments. One of the things that’s come up is that dystopian fiction, even if it ends with an element of light, largely traffics in despair.

That got me to thinking about fiction as escapism and the large numbers of people who say they prefer to read stories with happy endings. Not everyone is in this camp, however.

And the dystopian stories, while encased in speculation, are built on a foundation of reality. Government is big and getting bigger, more evasive. Man is cruel and getting crueler, more aggressive. The planet is dirty, the resources are dwindling, the games are risky, the work is meaningless. And dystopian novels show these social and political realities. They can also show the place or absence of God.

So that brings up the question. Which is “better,” to read a story that offers hope (and encouragement as a side dish) or one that exposes the realities of the human condition, offering little more than a warning?

My early exposure to dystopian novels was via George Orwell (1984) and Aldus Huxley (Brave New World). These books are uncomfortable and heartbreaking, but they say something about mankind that needs to be said. Neither of them offers hope.

In 1984 the protagonist ends up betraying the woman he loves, and she, him as they are both integrated properly into society run by Big Brother. In Brave New World the protagonist is so disillusioned by the society he hoped in that he commits suicide in the end.

And here’s where the truth of those books falls short. Because hope exists. Not in this world. Not in government or hedonism or power or science — none of the things exposed in the novels. Hope lies in God alone.

Some readers who prefer happy-ending stories say that the hope shown in books like romances, however temporary, creates a longing for the permanent hope and joy Christ provides.

Others say such hope is false, a superficial sham that hides reality and covers over what ought to be exposed.

Tolkien, however, says that escape from what imprisons is a positive thing, to be encouraged. Hence “faery stories” are ideal because they raise the reader, ennoble him, infuse him not only with hope but the desire to do greater deeds, to be a better person.

Perhaps there’s a place for both. I, for one, am glad I read the dystopian stories I’ve read, and I’m even gladder that I’ve read a fair number of faery stories.

I can’t help but think, however, that Tolkien may have sold himself short. I think his Lord of the Rings trilogy was dystopian fantasy set in Middle Earth. Rather than having his protagonist fail, though, he had him fail and succeed. It’s part of Tolkien’s genius, perhaps, that he showed the world as it is and that he offered hope.

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