Of Death and Darkness

Keeping all that I said in the post, “What a Wonderful World”, in mind, let’s go on to the flipside.

How do Christian writers deal with scary, evil things in their books? Should they even have dark elements in their stories?

I believe that the answer to that question is yes.

Christian writers are to point their readers to truth. To hope. We need the truth about death and Evil to be evident in our stories.

I believe that it’s necessary to have really bad villains in Christian works. No blurring of the lines. Evil is evil. Stories that leave out villains altogether are leaving out one of life’s basic truths: every one of us, at some point in our lives, are going to come face to face with choices that determine what type of person we will be. Who we are going to serve. Which side we’re going to fight on. If I can prepare my readers for their own fights with Evil in their own life, then I will have accomplished something worth while.

“Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let the villains be soundly killed at the end of the book. I think it is possible that by confining your child to the blameless stories of life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable.”

— C.S. Lewis

Not only are themes of death and darkness necessary to prepare readers for their own battles, they’re also helpful in reminding us of another truth: death isn’t the end.

This life here on earth is a breath, a blink of an eye, compared to all eternity. Every human on the planet, when death comes to them, is going to wake to find themselves in eternal torment or eternal joy. For Christians, death is not to be seen as the worst thing that could possibly happen to us – we are not to fear death at all. And I have found that the best way to get this message across is in the world of fiction (more specifically, in the genre of fantasy…but that deserves its own post).

The Bible commands us to be courageous over and over. But sometimes it’s hard to put into practice. When we’re facing something difficult or frightening, it can feel like courage is impossible to possess. I believe that literature helps us out in this area – by “going through” something frightening with a character we love, and watching that character overcome the difficulty, we can learn how to have courage in our own lives.

But in order to write about courage, there first has to be something for your characters to be courageous about. Speaking about The Lord of the Rings, Jane Johnson (involved in making the Lord of the Rings films) says,

“You can’t have courage without fear. You can’t be truly brave without knowing that there is something to fear, and to overcome that fear in order to go out there and face it. You cannot weigh up the likelihood of your success as part of your venture. And that is why Frodo makes such a wonderful hero. Because he is a halfling, a hobbit – he’s small. And the forces he faces are huge.”

Courage is doing what’s right in spite of fear: the determination to do what is right no matter what. I love stories that remind me of this. I love stories that remind me to be willing to fight and die for what is right – no matter the consequences.

Cowards die many times before their deaths;

The valiant never taste of death but once.

Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,

It seems to me most strange that men should

fear;

Seeing that death, a necessary end,

Will come when it will come.

Julius Caesar, Shakespeare

The wonderful thing about writing stories where Good ultimately triumphs over Evil, is that we are imitating the real-life Story. Good and Evil really are real, and ultimately, God will cause Good to win. Once and for all. Whether or not we can see it right now, Good will be victorious. Our stories should make that very clear.

Perhaps more than any other story, The Lord of the Rings has made this clear for me. Every time I read/watch it, I can tell a difference in myself. A willingness to follow what’s right, no matter what. Reading it makes me try to be more courageous, and makes me realize that death is not to be feared. There’s one scene in the movie that is at the heart of this issue, and puts the whole thing so beautifully.

Pippin (a hobbit) and Gandalf (the Wizard, who died and came back to life) are in the city of Minas Tirith. The city is being attacked by a seemingly unbeatable enemy, and everyone is certain that they are going to die. Sitting beside the gate, waiting to fight when the enemy rams the doors in, Pippin says despairingly to Gandalf,

“I didn’t think it would end this way.”

Gandalf looks at Pippin.  “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path. One that we all must take.

The grey rain curtain of this world rolls back and all turns to silver glass. And then you see it.”

“What, Gandalf? See what?”

“White shores and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

“Well. That isn’t so bad.”

Gandalf smiles. “No. No it isn’t.”

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