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What’s A Work Of Fiction To Accomplish?

A recent commenter to Stephen Burnett’s review of the Dark Knight made this statement: the issues raised by the literature [discussed] on this blog [do] tend to raise these very fundamental issues [the origin of the universe; evolution; the existence […]
| Aug 12, 2008 | No comments |

A recent commenter to Stephen Burnett’s review of the Dark Knight made this statement:

the issues raised by the literature [discussed] on this blog [do] tend to raise these very fundamental issues [the origin of the universe; evolution; the existence or not of a good, omnipotent God; the origins of evil; suffering; and so on]

DB is absolutely right. The literature we discuss at Spec Faith brings up these ultimate issues. But how much of understanding is in the eye of the viewer, or when discussing books, in the eye of the reader? For example, where Stephen and others saw redemption in the Dark Knight, DB saw a distrust in humanity, and some reviewers, such as Bryan Davis, saw evil triumph.

How is it that the same work can stir up so many interpretations? And is this a good thing or something to be wary of? Shouldn’t it be clear that good wins out? And what, after all, is good? Is it the indomitable human spirit, a creator God who made all things well, doing no harm to others or to our planet, a figment of the imagination?

Shouldn’t a work of fiction make this clear?

I’ll admit, I’m ambiguous on this point. When it comes to literature as art, I think the spelled-out ending is weak. Nothing is left for the reader to contemplate. No gaps left for the imagination to fill. Everything tidy and neat, tied up in a box and delivered for the reader. No further thought required.

But when I think about my own writing, do I want pagans latching on and finding something they think fits their worldview, as many do with Tolkien’s work? Do I want humanists to think my character came through without any help from an incompetent god?

No and no. So a part of me wants there to be no doubt what I mean by the story, and another part of me wants very much for readers to discuss the implications of this or that event, decision, character’s choices.

The question is this. Does a piece of fiction impact a reader more by ambiguity and the ensuing discussion, or by clarity?

I’ve never heard a discussion about whether or not Aslan was a redemptive character. Did Lewis create a less powerful character as a result of making him clearly good, clearly redemptive?

I already said, I’m ambiguous on this subject. What are your thoughts?

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.

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[…] years ago, I wrote a blog post for Spec Faith about how a work of fiction may intend to accomplish one thing, but readers may […]