I’m a millennial, and a Christian, one of those younger generation people that seem to garner such attention in Christian circles. And I love reading weird stories about magical lands, terrible beasts, cunning villains, and flawed characters.
To some, that might sound perfectly natural. To others, however, the mere use of words such as “magic” or “flawed character” would be enough to lock me out of the library and bookstore henceforth until I regain my senses.
It gets better (worse?). I happen to enjoy Harry Potter (still on book four), have a strong distaste for squeaky clean main characters, and rather detest stories that preach at me.
The thing is, I’m not alone. I have friends my age and younger, and friends of friends, and writer friends and reader friends. Christians. Solid, grounded young people.
And we’re tired of the same-old, same-old. Tired of the constant pressure to conform to rigid Christian dogmas, legalistic mindsets, and narrow views of the world when it comes to reading. Tired of stories that are blander than yesterday’s oatmeal. Tired of stories about people whose lives seem so out of touch with reality that it either makes us shake our heads or laugh at the spectacle.
We’d rather have fantastical stories that transport us to other lands, where darkness lurks, yes, but where the light ultimately shines bright as a thousand stars.
We want what I call “dark fiction.”
Sometimes its edgy. The hero isn’t a compliant teenager who memorizes Bible verses for a living and has a crush on the pastor’s daughter (which we never really see develop because appropriate boundaries).
A lot of the time it digs into the nitty-gritty, dirty topics of life. Topics that might be risky or refuse to fit into the “good little Christian” box.
It is, however, relatable. That’s what we crave. Don’t give us stories filled with characters peering down from their ivory towers, removed from the struggle and mess and brokenness of living in a fallen world.
Rather, give us stories with real, raw, vulnerable people. Who deal with hard situations. Who live in realities where life beats them down and doesn’t always work out as planned. Stories that aren’t afraid to use fantastical elements.
Those are the types of stories that let our imaginations soar, flood our minds, and drill into our hearts. We can spot the difference a mile away.
I lived for a number of years in an oppressive Christian homeschooling environment, and it wasn’t fun. Many of the approved stories were as exciting as a breakfast of corkboard. The good behavior of the main characters buried me beneath a load of guilt. The stories seemed written to trumpet Christian morals and agendas. The books generally lacked anything inspiring or invigorating to stir my excitement.
Compare that to a series like Hunger Games, fraught with danger, bubbling with action. Were the characters perfect? Um…nope. Were the themes always beneficial? Nada. Were the story’s conclusions always flawless. Sorry, no luck there.
But it’s easy to forget that the chief job of a story isn’t to preach (though a truly powerful story manages to weave profound themes into a terrific narrative).
And that’s exactly where stories by Christians enter the picture. If they can stop the obsession with making sure nothing offensive, scandalous, or challenging gets within 100 feet of the storyline, they can offer hope.
They don’t live in a timid, perfect world that can’t emphasize the brilliant light of Truth because it refuses to acknowledge the darkness plaguing the world and the characters themselves. They live in stories where rough things happen. Where characters make big mistakes and there isn’t always a clear right answer.
Just like us, our lives, our stories.
Like I said, relatable.
What makes a story resonate, beyond the mechanics and techniques, is that it reminds us of our stories. It’s as if we’re looking into a mirror, and suddenly, we care what happens. We want to follow these characters through the highs and lows. We want to know how it can possibly work out and why there’s any reason to hope.
And the breathtaking beauty lies in those glimpses of hope scattered throughout the pages. It lies in the themes that bring chills because we know them. We’re living them.
Most of all, it lies in the stories whose roots reach down into the rich soil of Truth, to grow and flourish in ways that excite, delight, and cause the soul to sing.
Yes, these are stories of broken people who live messy lives. What makes them truly valuable is when they part the shroud to reveal the piercing light of redemption, sacrifice, love.
These are the stories we want.
What types of stories resonate most deeply with you? Why do you think having “dark fiction” is a good or bad idea?