On Monday over at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, I began a discussion, in conjunction with the CSFF featured book for January, The Book of Names, about what constitutes too dark when it comes to fantasy. The comments were enlightening and prompted a second post. Again, a number of people responded, to the point that I felt I wanted to make some wrap up comments, but I had yet to give my review of the book. In the end I opted for continuing the darkness discussion here.
First, my basic assertions:
- Darkness is in the eye of the beholder
- But there is a line writers can cross that would create too much darkness
- For me, that line means I must not glorify evil or make it look appealing
One commenter noted that evil is appealing, which is why it is so deadly. I thought that was a great point and is actually something I try to convey in book 2 of my fantasy quatrain. But here’s the thing. The evil needs to be appealing to the character without being appealing to the reader. That’s a tough one, I think, if the reader is identifying with the character. But I think it is necessary or else the book will actually be informing readers of evil.
This brings up another point. Several comments pointed out that we live in an evil world where there is prostitution and where spouses cheat, sons go to war, women are raped, and men desire to bed children. Granted, all that is true. But as others pointed out, evil is also gossip and lying and disobeying parents and pride. On one hand, if we only show the “trivial sins,” people living in the raw world may scoff at our naivete. But if we depict the “majors,” others may think we’re giving a pass to the things God is opposed to.
To be honest, this is why I love fantasy. I don’t have to show the specific sins that my evil characters do, though I suggest them. Instead, I aim to show that they are evil, and let readers extrapolate what all that might entail.
One commenter made the point that the darkness should not be gratuitous—meaning that it should be properly motivated and necessary to the story.
Another said the key is also showing the light in proper balance with the darkness.
Rachel Starr Thomson gave us the link to her excellent article, “Beauty and the Beast” in which she said
Evil can’t be overcome by ignoring it. You have to buckle on your sword, swallow your fears, and overcome evil with good. In a way, that’s what fantasy authors are doing every time they set their Frodos on the road to Mount Doom. Many of us realize, as I do, that this world of ours is in the midst of its own epic battle—our stories are one way we hope to tip the scales in the heroes’ favour.
Another commenter said the way to identify whether or not a work is too dark is to look at the intent. If the darkness is present for the sake of darkness, if it is glorifying darkness, then it has crossed the line.
In all fairness, since it is his book that sparked the whole discussion, I thought I’d quote D. Barkley Briggs’ comment and let him have the last word—that is, until you all respond. 😉
Becky, what a fascinating and thoughtful thread…and a great angle to feature my title. Thank you! As for my own personal view, I tend to side with Ted Dekker, although perhaps with a bit more caution regarding the final outcome. If evil is not presented as truly evil, there should be cause for suspicion and alarm, since we are left unclear as to the great need for divine intervention. The difference between Hitler taking over Europe vs. Mikhail Gorbachev (just pulling a name out of a hat) are instructive. If Hitler was not recognized for his evil ambitions, the Allied powers would not have marshaled to defeat him. On the other hand, a writer wishing to portray the realities of evil too explicitly can perhaps begin to revel in it, with the net effect bringing fascination and allurement to the reader for things which should otherwise horrify. Of course, this is subjective, as you say. And each person, before the Lord, will have a different threshold for what defiles their own conscience. The target audience of a writer will likewise vary. Those steeped in, let’s say, Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles may be so conditioned to a certain level of darkness that they would dismiss as naive, and therefore never read, something less than Dekker. Therefore, Ted stands a chance of reaching folks I might not. But I don’t think this should be interpreted as literary carte blanche. God does not shrink from his depictions of evil, but a great deal of what he clarifies is how attractive evil is to the human soul at the most subtle and fundamental levels, simply because we are fallen creatures. Therefore any depiction of evil must be clear-minded in its ultimate aim, which is to create an atmosphere in which the light may shine the brighter.
Thanks for letting me add my two cents! And thanks for a very thoughtful treatise.
Comment by D. Barkley Briggs
If you haven’t already had a chance to check out the others participating in the blog tour, I encourage you to set aside some time this week and check out these: Sally Apokedak/ Brandon Barr/ Keanan Brand/ Rachel Briard/ Melissa Carswell/ Valerie Comer/ Frank Creed/ Amy Cruson/ CSFF Blog Tour/ Stacey Dale/ D. G. D. Davidson/ Shane Deal/ Jeff Draper/ April Erwin/ Karina Fabian/ Andrea Graham/ Todd Michael Greene/ Timothy Hicks/ Joleen Howell/ Jason Isbell/ Cris Jesse/ Jason Joyner/ Carol Keen/ Magma/ Rebecca LuElla Miller/ Mirtika/ Eve Nielsen/ Nissa/ John W. Otte/ Steve Rice/ Crista Richey/ Alice M. Roelke/ Chawna Schroeder/ Rachel Starr Thomson/ Steve Trower/ Fred Warren/ Phyllis Wheeler/ Jill Williamson/