Faith in a Grimdark World
“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortably, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
—C. S. Lewis
My first and favorite fandom growing up was Warhammer 40,000. Judging by how much trouble I get in with my wife by leaving miniatures scattered throughout the house, it’s probably safe to say I’m still a pretty big fan.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the setting of 40k, I will do my best to summarize it in one sentence: It is the year 40,000, the God-Emperor of Mankind is a rotten husk in a vegetative state who is kept alive only through the daily sacrifice of a thousand souls, and everything is pretty much horrible.
To put things into further perspective, the tagline for their products—“In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war”—is where the genre grimdark got its name.
This week we feature Aidan Russell and his novel Road of the Lost in Lorehaven Book Clubs. Stop by the flagship book club on Facebook to learn more about these stories.
In 40k, Mankind is overwhelmingly united by one thing: unwavering faith in the Emperor and strict, non-negotiable adherence to the cult that worships him. It is an over-the-top caricature of medieval Christianity. Witches and heretics are heaped upon the pyres with no tears shed. In fact, if one were to shed a tear for their lost loved one, they would soon find themselves next to them in the flames. Entire worlds are eradicated and populations snuffed out at the first sign of mutation or treachery. It is, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out,” but the body is a galaxy-spanning empire and the eye is a world full of a billion lives. It is a universe that no sane human, let alone a Christian, would want to live in.
There’s just one problem in the 40k universe: the cruel enforcement of the Emperor’s edicts and adherence to his faith are the only things holding back a galaxy of bloodthirsty aliens who seek to conquer or slaughter mankind. The righteous fervor is the thin, precarious phalanx that holds back an alternate dimension full of demons and laughing gods1
If you’ve read Myke Cole’s recent novel (warning! spoiler) The Armored Saint, you probably rooted against the Order in the beginning. Then you found out something horrible: they were right, and all the cruelty and bloodshed seemed a small price to pay to keep the demons at bay.
Now, what does all this have to do with the above C. S. Lewis quote?
In 40k, regular humans are given meager weapons, meager armor, and ordered to near-certain death against armies of towering horrors. When they march against alien hordes and legions of demons, their most potent weapon is the indomitable will to fulfill their duty to a God-Emperor they’ve never seen and have never known. That is certainly no easy task.
When you and I wake up every day, our duty to God is to be the light in a world of shadows.
We don’t have to face off against demons and monsters. No, we wouldn’t be so lucky. Instead, we must fight a war with our souls and our hearts. The only weapons we have to hold back the darkness of this world are our charity and kindness, and in our every failing, the shadows encroach on us more and more.
There is no front line to which we can go and fight against sin. That battle follows us every minute of every day. It seems even most prevalent when we are running late and overworked. When our own lives seem to be spiraling is when it seems God always sends us a stranger that needs a helping hand or a relative who needs our time. And we must fight these tiny battles, for what other choice is there? To give in to our apathy and selfishness is to invite into ourselves the wages of sin: death itself.
But there is one weapon we as Christians have that Mankind’s soldiers in the 41st millennium do not: Christ himself. When our lines break before the devil’s assault, he will strengthen us and rally us to his cause. When we fall, wounded by the wickedness that surrounds us, he will heal us and send us back into the fray.
I live in Las Vegas. We don’t have a seedy underbelly of sin. It’s part of our namesake. The part of our city that no one talks about, that receives little recognition, are those that go our every day to feed to hungry, shelter the homeless, and ease the pains of the suffering. Yet every day they go out do God’s work, armed only with the faith in their hearts. They keep back the shadows, battle against demons, and prepare for the day our Lord returns. For what other choice do they have?
“No army is big enough to conquer the galaxy, but faith alone can overturn the universe.”
—A quote I saw once in a Warhammer 40k rulebook
“Aidan Russell creates action-driven fantasy of all the good old things.”
— Lorehaven Magazine
Explore Aidan Russell’s novel Road of the Lost in the Lorehaven Library.
Read our full review exclusively from the summer 2018 issue of Lorehaven Magazine!
- For any 40k fans out there, I know how I spelled “demon” and I’m sticking to it! ↩
Sooooo Christianity is like a fictional dystopian death-cult that’s the only thing keeping a fictional humanity alive. Yay?
I dunno man, the moral’s kinda muddled. Tho it is an easy way to sort where you fall on an authoritarian-flippy hippie spectrum.
Haven’t really gotten into Warhammer (though I know a little bit about it since my ex loves it) but what you’re talking about kind of reminds me of my favorite anime, Fate Zero. In a lot of ways it’s very grim, but there are happy moments in it, and, for those that are paying attention, aspects of joy and redemption. In some regards Fate Zero is a show about making sense of the heartache and pain of life. Or finding that there can still be something good or worth striving for even amid the sorrow.
I’ve seen Warhammer referenced a fair amount across the Internet, though i’ve never been able to figure out what it /is/ — books? games?
I love the SCP Foundation (also difficult to describe, so here’s the short version: organization dedicated to containing and studying anything paranormal), which can be *very* grimdark at times. There are so many different unstoppable apocalypse-causing things the Foundation is studying, it’s not so much a question of whether humanity will be destroyed as which thing will do it first.
I am curious what it is about “grimdark” that can be appealing, even as someone who looks into it from time to time. All the terrifying, world-destroying horrors in the SCP Foundation universe certainly make the anomalies that are funny or heartwarming stand out more, but i don’t think it’s *just* that.
Warhammer 40k is the world’s most popular miniature wargame, where you buy a lot of overpriced miniatures, assemble and paint them, and then you can have complicated battles with friends. But, one of the most important parts of 40k is the lore. Seriously, there is an entire publishing company dedicated to publishing books about the lore. (Warhammer invented Grimdark.) You like SCPs? You will definetly like the warhammer horror books about the Genestealer cults, Necrons, and Daemons. But anyway, you’re welcome for my explanation of warhammer.
Grimdark is destroying the quality of Fantasy in my opinion.
Never read it but not surprising. LOTR was pretty dark but there was Rivendell, Lothlorien, the Shire, Tom Bombadi, beauty that made Middle Earth worth saving. And though it cost Frodo dearly it was worth the price he paid.
That’s going to depend on the grimdark story, honestly, as well as how one defines the genre in the first place. I’d consider Fate Zero to be at least partly grim dark, but it’s still an amazing show with lots of beauty, insights into human nature, and life lessons. One just has to pay attention to the story to understand it, instead of simply responding negatively to the dark parts. Honestly, the extremely dark parts actually give the beautiful parts way more meaning.
For every good Grimdark author (and they do exist) there are about 10 more who care more about shock value than literary quality.
This fantasy world sounds horribly depressing. I went through a period as a child when I actually perceived the universe that way. Thank God I know differently now!
Check out Terrible Writing Advice on Youtube. The most recent satirizes the Grimdark fantasy genre. Those videos are always good for a laugh when I’m down.
It’s not nearly as depressing as you think. Really, all the sadness and destruction makes each small piece of hope’s significance multiplied tenfold.