One of the books that had the greatest effect on my life was C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, as I have mentioned in this space before. In many ways the effect this little book has had upon me is surprising because it is most nearly “supernatural fiction.” And my reaction to supernatural fiction? It’s not my favorite thing. And that’s putting it mildly.
Then why did I take so strongly to The Great Divorce? Why do I still claim it as one of the top books I love?
I think the answer to that question is closely linked to another one: why don’t I like supernatural fiction?
The answer to that question is fairly straightforward. I believe in the supernatural—that it is as real as this physical world is though we can not test it with our physical senses. But I stake my life on the supernatural because the Bible has revealed this non-physical world to us.
Elijah saw a supernatural army that his servant could not see. Jesus referred to the legion of angels He could call on at His crucifixion if He had chosen to do so. Samson’s mother discussed his birth with an angel. Abraham and Sarah entertained angels more than once. Jesus called out the demons from the man living among the graves. Paul cast out the demon inhabiting the life of a girl who used to predict the future.
These were real encounters, ones we know about because the Bible records them. It also records Ezekiel’s vision of God on His throne, and an eerily similar one by John in Revelation. The language in those is hard to understand as literal, what with white garments and fire and gleaming bronze and wheels and eyes all around them and more.
Those events solidify the idea that the supernatural is real, however, but it also introduces the idea that it’s a bit foreign to what we know and what we can understand.
So why, I wonder, do writers take on the supernatural in fiction. If it is true and it is beyond our ability to understand, what can a story about the supernatural accomplish?
C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce did one main thing for me: it convinced me that the supernatural is true. He did so, not by fictionalizing the Bible when it speaks of heaven, or of hell, for that matter. Rather, he took a simple truth—eternity is what lasts; this earth is temporal—and he showed this fact in his story.
I was never in doubt about what Lewis was saying. I did not conclude that he thought heaven was just like the place he described (in fact, he left the precise details of heaven unexplored, but he gave description of the terrain leading to heaven.)
And yet today, in the era of story, many authors, believers and unbelievers alike, have taken up the idea of writing about the supernatural. Some bring angels to earth and some take humans to hell.
Those stories trouble me. Yes, I do believe angels can take on human form as they did in the Old Testament. But I think there’s a need to handle them in a way that is consistent with the Bible. Sure, we don’t know a lot, so some speculation would seem to be necessary. But none of it, I believe, should contradict the Bible. A few authors have that as their foundational principle, too, and those stories actually accomplish something akin to Lewis’s story.
Others, however, seem to operate on the idea that speculation can take the story away from revealed Biblical truth.
The problem I have is simple: won’t readers look at those stories in the same way they do ones about vampires or werewolves or zombies? Won’t they think of angels and demons as simply fabrications of the author?
The thing is, demons are real, angels are real, heaven and hell are real. If a story makes them seem like make-believe, isn’t it doing the opposite of what Lewis did in The Great Divorce?
And is that OK? Is it OK to lead people to conclude that what is real, is instead pretend?
I’m fully aware that there are writers who have a different view. I mean, the number of stories about the supernatural seems to grow. Why, I wonder? Why do writers write these stories? What do they want to accomplish through them? Why do readers read them? I mean, I assume there is a significant audience since so many stories continue to appear.
I realize that Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness may have opened the door to the genre. But his stories seemed to aim at the same thing Lewis’s The Great Divorce did—he wanted to show that the supernatural is real.
Can stories that wildly speculate to the point that there is little resemblance to what the Bible says about supernatural entities, accomplish the same thing? And if not, then what do they accomplish?
One last question? Is it OK to use real supernatural beings in a fictitious way in order to create an entertaining story? I guess that would be sort of like creating an alternate history. So instead of taking the premise, What if JFK had not been assassinated, or What if Judas accepted Christ at the end of his life, the question is, what if a person can travel to hell, or some such thing that seems clearly opposed to reality.
I admit, I’m conflicted here. I’m interested in what others think about this subject.
Please feel free to add your comments as well.