You mean I actually remembered to post a column with only two weeks between them instead of four? I’m just as shocked as you are! Allons-y!
Ahem. I’ve been watching too much Dr. Who lately.
Anyway. Let’s get back to talking about deus ex machina. Last time, I mused about whether or not Rose was a deus ex machina when she saved the Doctor from the Daleks. I also considered the possibility that the Doctor himself is a walking deus ex machina, since he always seems to stumble on the right answer after being thoroughly stumped for most of the episode. Several of you disagreed with my assessments (one person pointed out that Rose simply wanted to communicate with the TARDIS, which is true), and that’s okay. I’m a big boy. I can handle a little disagreement.
But what does this have to do with Christian fiction? Well, I wonder if, at times, we’re guilty of accepting deus ex machinas at the end of our stories. And I’m also wondering if that’s really a bad thing or not.
In recent years, I’ve read a number of Christian speculative fiction (some of them award-winners or nominees) that seemingly have their endings firmly rooted in the tradition of deus ex machina. The heroes have their backs up against the wall, it looks like the forces of evil are going to triumph, and then God (or His stand-in, depending on the book) unleashes some sort of miraculous intervention that sweeps away the bad guys and saves the day. It took me a while to notice, but the more I thought about it, the more stories I realized had that ending.
And to be quite frank, I don’t know what to think of that.
I mean, the deus ex machina is derided as a literary device and for good reason. Think about it this way: would you be satisfied with a book where a person is having a bad life, but then, when he or she converts to Christianity, everything suddenly turns out okay? Of course not! We know that’s not a valid way to end the story. It’s unrealistic. It’s a deus ex machina, even if we don’t call it that.
But what about the miracle endings we see in Christian speculative fiction? Are those bad?
The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to realize that no, they’re not. A deus ex machina is only a deus ex machina if the solution to the story’s problems don’t logically flow from the story’s situation. If the author has already established that God is a character in his or her novel, that divine intervention is a possibility, then it’s not necessarily a deus ex machina if God intervenes in a miraculous way. So long as the author has established that this is a possibility, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Or am I wrong? Let me know in the comments below. What do you think? When is a deus ex machina okay?