In Defense of Love

 

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I recently attended a writing lecture hosted by a fairly successful author whose stories I have always strongly disliked.  I figured that if nothing else, I could at least gain a better understanding of why I disliked her books and writing style, and avoid them in my own writings.  When she opened the floor up for questions, I raised my hand.

“What type of books do you read, and what authors are your favorites?” I asked.  One of the best ways to get to know anyone – authors in particular – is to find out what stories grace their bookshelves.

“Well, I don’t really read very much,” she said.  “It seems that all of the fiction that’s available these days has romance in it.  I don’t read anything with romance; it’s usually not a good thing to fill your mind with.  So every now and then I might read a biography, but other than that, I don’t really read anything.”

I kept my mouth shut for the rest of the lecture.  I couldn’t even imagine a life devoid of fiction, let alone writing well without reading anything.  Suddenly I knew why I’d always disliked her stories – trying to write without reading is like being sent to battle with nothing but a pocket knife.  But more than the anti-fiction jab, I was disturbed at the anti-romance ideology that spurred her to set aside fiction in the first place.

I can understand why people would turn their nose up at the genre of romance as such.  A great deal of it is horribly inappropriate and immoral.  Even those stories that are clean (including those in the Christian book store) are so sappy and shallow that I can’t stomach more than a paragraph or two.  But to shun every story that contains a romantic story thread or element is another matter entirely.  Granted, the author’s stance was a bit extreme, but she is certainly not the first person I’ve heard express similar ideas.  Everyone from concerned parents to macho teen boys to self-disciplined young girls forsake stories that contain romance.  “I don’t want my children hearing about boyfriend-girlfriend stuff at this age.”  “I don’t want to fill my head with romantic ideas that may never come true.”  “Romance is stupid.”  Each person is entitled to their own preferences and convictions.  Yet if I may, I would like to present a case in defense of love.

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Recently, I heard a talk about this very issue: you can listen to the podcast here.  It is well worth taking the time to listen to.  The speaker, Matthew McDill, laid out the reasons why we, as a culture, are so fascinated by stories.  We don’t love just any stories – we love ones with heroes, with good vs. evil fights (where good always comes out on top), with self-sacrifice, with redemption and with love.  I had never thought about it until the speaker mentioned it, but almost every good story contains at least a little romance.  I can see why the anti-romance author just gave up reading fiction altogether; finding a good book without love would be as hard as trying to find a good book without a hero.

Think about this.  All stories follow a general pattern: a hero is presented with a problem and must sacrifice himself in the fight against that evil, gaining redemption (and usually the girl) in the end.  This basic story pattern mirrors the Christian view of reality.  God created the world and characters to live in that world.  The characters fell, choosing evil over good, introducing a desperate problem into their story.  God Himself came onto the stage – the author stepped into his own book – and sacrificed Himself for the world.  He gained redemption for His characters, showing them how far He would go for love.  And in the end, in the very last chapter of the story, Christ will be united with His “bride”, the Church.  In other words, He “gets the girl.”  Thus all good stories mirror the central Story of life.  As McDill pointed out in his podcast, don’t ever think that unbelievers can’t understand the Gospel.   They’ve heard it over and over again in almost every story they’ve ever read or watched.

Love is at the center of reality.  If God is love, and God is the center of reality, then love is at the very core of what matters most in life.  Literature should, as accurately as possible, reflect the way that an author sees life and reality.  If I (as an author) believe that love is at the center of reality, and I aim at reflecting that reality in my stories, then it follows that I will be including a good deal of love in my writings.  Of course, romantic love is not the only way that an author portraying a God’s love in literature.  There are all sorts of other, equally powerful, expressions of love in literature (think of the brotherly love in The Lord of the Rings, the father-son love in Little Britches or the sisterly love in Little Women).  But romantic love is certainly one of the ways that Christian authors can – and should – use to give readers a glimpse of God’s love for us.  This doesn’t mean that we’re required to write “romances” from now on, or that we’re allowed to slip into the perversions and sappy-ness of the majority of love stories.  What it does mean is that romance is absolutely a valid element of story telling.  I’d even go so far as to say that it’s a vital element.

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In the end, don’t listen to those who tell you that romance is sappy, overdone, unhelpful or just plain bad.  It’s not.  Not if it is done right, reflecting true Love Himself.  Don’t be afraid of romances.  Don’t be afraid to read them.  Don’t be afraid to write them.  Read Austen.  Read Dickens.  Read stories where the hero slays the dragon and gets the girl.  Write stories of your own that reflect this deepest of realities – and love it.

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22 thoughts on “In Defense of Love

  1. “Well, I don’t really read very much.” What kind of writer doesn’t read?! I hope you hit the buzzer and yelled “Wrong answer!” 😉

    In all seriousness, I loved this post. One thing I’ll never understand is why self-proclaimed Christian authors feel the need to avoid romance stories in their writing. For crying out loud, a Christian’s life IS a romance story! Not only that, but by avoiding romance, we’re letting the world win. As you mentioned in your post, that majority of romance novels today twist romance into something perverted and disgusting. As Christian artists, it should be our job to set the record straight and overcome the bad with good, right?

  2. Beautifully said! 🙂 Honestly, I can’t stand sappy and cheesy romances. They don’t do justice to the genre. But when romances are done right, they are some of the strongest stories that can ever grace fiction. I think that’s often forgotten when romances get overdone or love is immediately connected to romance. Love comes in all different forms, as you said.

    • I totally agree! When done right, romance can be so powerful. And like you said, there are so many other forms of love out there, too – I always love it when stories explore the “lesser-known” forms of love, such as love between siblings, teachers and students, or between grandparents and grandchildren.

  3. I agree with you, Hopewriter! I also can add to the view that authors are sharing their perceptions of reality. As in Austen’s classic, “Pride and Prejudice” not only presents the author’s view on life, but on morality and truths “universally acknowledged” in her time. I believe that some of the best literature reflects not only the author’s perception on these things, but on his/her philosophies on their particular historical context and culture. Kind of like a history lesson! Thank you so much for this post. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  4. Great job, Victoria! Now, I have a question that addresses what I assume was the main concern of the author you heard. Since God has much to say about what love should look like, including moral purity, how should we respond to literature that presents a decidedly unbiblical view of love? Is it possible to create an unhelpful appetite for ungodly love by overexposing children to literature that glorifies it? What should we expose our children to and how do we teach them godly love?

    • Great questions! I don’t have it all figured out, but here’s my take on the topics you brought up:
      1) As far as unbiblical forms of love in literature go, I think that anything that glorifies purely evil or sinful love should be completely untouched. But there are certain forms of unbiblical love (such as contentious marriages, unrealistically perfect love stories or completely shallow, attraction-based romances) that are useful to learn from in literature. By reading about other people’s mistakes, we can avoid those mistakes in our own lives. In that sense, sometimes it would be a good idea to expose our children to some forms of ungodly love in literature and then talk about what true love looks like.
      2) I do believe that it is possible to create an unhealthy appetite for ungodly love, and that is certainly a very legitimate concern. The author I talked to had pure intentions when she decided not to read romances; she was trying to protect her heart. But I think a better way of responding to the issue is that parents should talk with their children about the differences between godly and ungodly love, the scriptures pertaining to love, and how to distinguish between the different forms of love in books and media. As far as specifics (what exactly should we expose our children to), that depends on the individual parents and on the children, once they are firmly established. My main point in my post was simply that we should be reading at least SOME form of good love stories, not chucking all romance out the window. Each family will have to decide which specific stories they allow into their homes and into their children’s minds.
      3) I think that the best way to teach our children godly love is to live it! If they grow up seeing a biblical, loving marriage played out day-by-day, year after year, they should be able to spot ungodly love very quickly in the books/movies they are exposed to.
      Thanks for the comment, and for the questions! 🙂

  5. *cheers*

    You expressed so many of my thoughts exactly. I often say I don’t like “Romances” simply because my first thought is always of those cheesy, sensual-ridden paperbacks, but really, I do love a good romance- it’s just they have to be beautiful, godly ones that uphold self-sacrifice & purity, and have some humor, too 😀

  6. I agree with all comments, as well as your answers, Victoria. If you had asked me the question, however, my answer would have been the same. I don’t read romance novels! Of course I would have in mind the sappy, overdone, “change the characters name and location but keep the same storyline” type. There is a difference, thou, between romance and love, as you so ably pointed out. I love a good love story!

  7. Well done, Victoria!!! 🙂 I just kept mentally going yes, yes, yes!!!!!! Seriously, I could underline every. single. line. I so agree! 🙂 (Btw, speaking of Austen, I wanted to mention that with the Emma party next week, I’ll probably be filling up your inbox with a quite inordinate number of posts…so just wanted to let you know as “forewarned is forearmed.” ;))

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