Today's post comes from the very gifted fantasy writer known to us as "Skeli". What she has to say on this month's topic of "how deep and dark do we go?" takes us, well, deep. It challenges, and yet it reassures. Isn't that what we want to do for our readers? Writerly women, I give you Skeli ...
How far is too far for the Christian when it comes to writing about evil?
Where does evil come from? Is it transmitted by mere knowledge of it? If you look at it, does it get inside you like the scrawling of the Fisher King in Dr. Who, making you a target?
Christ said that what makes a person evil isn’t what goes into him, but what comes out.
But our writing comes out of us. How do we keep it from being evil?
We need to take a look at our identity and what we allow to stand within us.
It isn’t by our own efforts that we shine. This little light of mine is merely a reflection. I don’t generate it. It comes from the Great Source. If I keep my mirror clean, I reflect it well. That means washing off the mud of my adventures from time to time, sometimes with tears.
So how do we do that? The best defense we have is God and each other. We need to ask ourselves: do we savour the dark, or do we have a more utilitarian handle on it for the purpose of illustrating the truth?
Tell it like it is, but always ask yourself why am I telling it this way, this much, this dark. Is it true? Is it necessary? Do a gut check. And run it past mature peers, those who have walked in the dark before you. Nothing like a fellowship to help out on a quest.
The Bible calls us to be witnesses, to give a true account of what we see. Perhaps this applies to evil as well.
It is not enough to merely “hold my attention” as Margaret Atwood put it. We as Christian artists have an obligation to work out what we think the truth is and put it out there as honestly and clearly as we can.
If one is going to engage this world with authentic writing, one cannot be shy about telling it like it is. This is being a good witness. We are people of truth. We take in shards and output perspective.
But what about the power of evil? Do we sub-creators, as Tolkien phrased it, have that kind of wattage, to add to the sum of darkness in this world? We might.
Any act of creation is kind of magical. We set forth our intent, bring out our crafted thing, something that did not exist in the universe before, and release it like a dove (or a Fender-wielding punk rocker, depending) to our audiences. From there it takes on a journey of its own, and we no longer have a say. That journey can last centuries. Ever read anything by Shakespeare? Hammurabi? The Sufi poets?
The problem is not all truth is pretty, and some of it is downright horrifying. Are we going to get it on us?
There is risk here.
Evil is very good at masquerading as cool and powerful. Strip away the Hollywood, though, light up the consequences, the fallout, and there is nothing pretty about evil, nothing cool, nothing fun.
It is the grand masquerade. It is our job to pull away that mask. We can’t do that if we soften up the truth. If one doesn’t have the stomach to tell it like it is, perhaps one should write about something else, or risk not honouring the truth.
There is also a question of quality. As Madeleine L’Engle put it, bad art is bad religion. We have an obligation to quality in what we create. A poorly told tale does not reveal truth very well.
So then, it becomes a contest between authenticity and gratuitous immersion.
We are warriors going into the misty dark. What we do there matters. Be shallow, and those who most need what we offer will toss it aside as untrue. Muck in too deep and we risk being swallowed by evil’s siren song ourselves. The stakes are high. This is not a game for cowards.
But we go into the dark with love and light, and we don’t go alone.
I don’t think that’s going too far.
Amen, Skeli, Amen. If you want to leave a comment, tell us, on a scale of one to five -- 1 being "I don't even want to go there at all" and 5 being, " I think I have to get to the rock bottom" -- how far YOU need to go into the dark in your writing in order to answer the call that whispers to you.