Young Adult fiction is dark, one writer recently said in a prominent periodical. And few can deny the popularity of monster, dystopian, or post-apocalyptic stories. Television is following the trend with shows sporting such happy titles as Grimm and Revenge.
The end of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, a popular series now going to the big screen, seems to illustrate the movement in fiction away from hope. The final book, Mockingjay, left a lot of readers unhappy — it received an average customer rating at Amazon of 3.5 stars, a full point lower than the first in the series. Here are a few excerpts (spoiler alert) from some of the “disappointed” reviews:
- I can’t fathom what Collins wanted me, as a reader, to feel at that point. Life is misery and then we die? War destroys everything and there’s no hope?
- We were fools for hoping for a happy ending.
- Speaking of dead characters, for some reason Collins felt the need to kill off all of the hope bearing ones in Mockingjay.
Even Christian fiction may be following the same progression. Recently I read reviews of the first book, Solitary, by Christian speculative writer Travis Thrasher. Some Goodreads reviewers were unhappy because of the Christian content, but some because of the hopelessness. (Again, spoiler alert).
- It’s genius writing, in my opinion. Just…don’t expect the super-mega happy ending.
- if you like happy endings, then I don’t recommend this book.
- There are glimmers of hope, help for Chris, but they all end up being useless and powerless. Good does not overcome, so what’s the point?!
Granted, Solitary, unlike Mockingjay, is the first in the series, so there’s still the possibility that the end will not be as bleak, but that doesn’t disprove the popularity of stories that deal with death and failure and loss.
So I have to ask — is fiction killing hope?
Or is fiction reflecting the hopelessness seeping into Western culture?
In a recent blog post, author William McGrath identified hope as a key component in fantasy, then said this:
In my mind, fantasy and hope are so closely tied together that I sometimes worry about people who dislike fantasy. I have to wonder if they have given up on hope. I suspect that it isn’t the elves or wizards that they find “unrealistic,” but the happy endings. (Excerpt from “Why Tolkien”)
What’s troubling to me is the idea that this death of hope, whether fostered or reflected by fiction, seems contrary to the “God-shaped vacuum” Pascal referenced:
There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.
― Blaise Pascal, Pensees
Pascal wasn’t inventing something, I don’t think. He simply gave a succinct statement of truth contained in Scripture — Mankind created with eternity in our hearts, for God’s good pleasure, to be in communion with Him, is separated from Him by our sin. As part of our sin or as a result of our sinful hearts, we turn to idols to fill up the longings God alone can assuage.
But what happens when we say, in true nihilistic fashion, there is nothing that satisfies or can satisfy. What happens when a society decides there is no hope?
Are we as readers being swept into this trend against our will, or do we find something appealing to the dark, the hopeless? Or, as Christians, are we saying, Yes, this world offers no hope; that comes from Christ alone.
Are we as writers being swept into this trend, and how can Christians authors offer hope when it seems like a growing portion of the culture isn’t interested?
Or is this a passing fad?
What do you think about hopelessness?