1. Travis Perry says:

    I don’t mind stories showing more moral complexity. That can be interesting.

    However, it seems clear our current culture is profoundly uncomfortable with the concept of moral clarity. Which is something fairy tales, at least the Disney versions, always provided. Perhaps that’s not just because (realistically) everyone is both good and evil and new stories are portraying people as such, but rather because so many modern people believe that good and evil don’t even exist at all in any objective sense. ALL is in the “eye of the beholder”…so there is no “real” evil that can be realistically portrayed…

    • Travis, that’s just would I would originally think. And yet, at least in both these films, moral clarity is certainly there. It’s simply found in different way.

      In Maleficent (spoilers) there is absolute good and absolute evil. Princess Aurora and the good fairies and gnomes of the forest are unqualified images of innocence. The evil king who experiences a fall from grace and in turn enslaves a kingdom is an unqualified image of evil — perhaps the starkest cinematic portrayal of unregenerate man I’ve seen in a while. And Maleficent, despite her popularity as unregenerate evil in the original Sleeping Beauty, is here recast as someone who is corrupted by sinful man and begins her journey of vengeance and darkness — and yet takes another turn.

      In How to Train Your Dragon (and I would hope its sequel), there is also absolute good and absolute evil. The heroic Vikings, especially pioneering misfit Hiccup, are only partly qualified images of good — though they are certainly misguided at first about the best way to deal with pesky wild dragons. (The solution is not simply to kill them, but to train them.) The dragons are also partly qualified images of good, and can be seen as an honest portrayal of post-Fall creation: when wild they are shrewd but often ignorant, and when honestly tamed they are the best friends that good-stewarding man could have. As for absolute evil, it’s unqualifyingly shown in the form of a very traditional, fire-breathing beast who lies gorging itself within a mountain, consuming the prey it’s brought by enslaved smaller dragons.

      So at least in these films, I don’t see any bent toward relativism. Instead the stories explore the same old conflicts of man’s sinful-yet-graced nature, creation’s subjection to the Curse that is undone starting with man’s redemption, and also straight-up evil that is ultimately non-nuanced and is tragically never redeemed.

  2. Spoiler for How to Train Your Dragon 2. I just dared to read one positive review of the upcoming film, which quotes one character:

    ”Good dragons under the control of bad people do bad things.”

    If that’s left unchallenged, it sounds like the sequel also includes clear images of evil and places ultimate blame where it belongs: not on nature but on nature’s steward.

  3. notleia says:

    And I’m over here wondering why you keep up the black-white dichotomy even when it doesn’t fit. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’re playing devil’s advocate for black-and-white, but why are we assuming that the Christian audience needs someone to ‘splain shades-of-gray to them?

    • I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Are you sure you are not yourself black-and-white-dichotomizing my view into some pre-existing category? What “doesn’t fit”? I’m quite serious about my view. It may not be necessary to say, “These stories aren’t trying to say ‘evil isn’t isn’t,'” in order to defend the fact that discerning Christians could still see them. But it’s certainly helpful to add, “In fact, the views these stories have are very Biblical.”

    • bainespal says:

      but why are we assuming that the Christian audience needs someone to ‘splain shades-of-gray to them?

      I’ve always assumed that explaining “shades of gray” to Christian subcultures is one of the core purposes of Speculative Faith. I wasn’t really immersed in much of the subculture despite growing up in a conservative Baptist community, but still when I first started reading this site, “Harry Potter isn’t really about witchcraft!” was news to me.

      Don’t think that fundamentalists are all cranky and obtuse on purpose. Sometimes, they’ve simply been misinformed about media and culture. Explaining subtlety to them may actually win “converts” to speculative fiction and perhaps also to a more positive way of expressing faith.

      • #KindredSpirits

        That’s exactly the reason I’m here doing this myself. Someone — actually, a whole bunch of someones — didn’t dehumanize this former homeschool brat or relegate him to a mean category of “just another cultural fundamentalist.” Instead, a whole bunch of someones cumulatively reached out “to” me with careful teaching and explanation through the form of personal involvement or books, sermons, etc. And I see no reason to “fight fire with fire” by shunning any and all “fundamentalists” as if they’re all evil.

      • notleia says:

        It is true that I’m impatient with it because I’m tired of it. I probably just need to take a break from this site, especially with this current rash of what feels like paranoia-mongering to me.


        But before I go, I want to solidly plug my local writer bro’s book Galendor Ye Dude From Yonder Forest. It’s genre-savvy, fairy tale/fantasy YA, and it is full of awesome. And it namedrops God enough that it should make everyone here comfortable. It even has a scene straight out of the Baptist Guide to Casual Witnessing. I will be blarging about it–sometime. Hopefully within this next week. I submitted it to the SF Library, but I don’t know how fast editorial wheels around here turn and I wanted to make sure people know about it.

        • bainespal says:

          It even has a scene straight out of the Baptist Guide to Casual Witnessing.

          So, it contains Christian pick-up lines? 😉

        • dmdutcher says:

          I agree with this. The safety thing-you have to realize that some of us grew up with a lot of ham-handed warnings about safe and unsafe fiction, and it’s a touchy subject. Too many posts on it, especially if they aren’t really careful about the examples they use, can turn people off.

          I had my parents literally throw out books that they thought were demonic, and had to deal with a lot of issues about a fundamentalist interpretation of pop culture. I know I probably could be called a fundamentalist now, but I remember being lambasted in church in public because I mentioned I like SF, and I overcompensated badly in the other direction not just as a rebellion, but to keep myself sane. I’m not saying this because I want to hear “poor D.M.” but instead so people can realize that you really need to be careful about that topic.

          Just be careful how much you push the need for discernment. There is a place to talk about it, but don’t let safety discussions dominate the site.

  4. Thanks for your insight into the “third party” of creation.  There is a knee-jerk reaction among conservative Christian circles where anything to do with taking care of the environment, from recycling to acknowledging that car emissions do indeed have a negative effect on air quality, is scorned as being “liberal” and somehow un-Christian.  In fact,  it’s a biblical mandate, because we were given creation to steward and nurture, not to use and abuse with callous abandon.

  5. DDaiboa says:

    Interesting how Maleficent becomes a metaphor for environmentalism. Also, the wing-tearing scene looks like <a href=”http://www.ranker.com/list/maleficent-movie-quotes/movie-and-tv-quotes”>one of the pivotal moments of the movie</a>. And if what I heard is true, that’s a metaphor for violation of women. That’s an interesting take.

What do you think?