By Melody Faith
Recently, I read an interview with Ted Dekker discussing the darkness in his writing. He explains why he feels the need for it. He wants a distinct difference between good and evil in his stories. He wants readers to look at evil and be repulsed by it while they look at good and see the beauty in it. I found this to be a masterful way of describing how to handle darkness in Christian stories.
Today’s media and pop culture really likes to blur the lines.
Disney’s 2014 retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story, Maleficent, is an interesting example. The story portrays Maleficent as the protagonist, while King Stefan as the villain. I personally found it to be very confusing and down-right disturbing. I struggled to find a character to like, pity, or care about. I really despised all of them, even though I knew they wanted us to love Maleficent. I had a hard time pitying her. She was evil. She chose to be evil and did wicked things. None of this was addressed as wrong; you were simply pressed to pity her.
Another example for this is Tim Burton’s 1993 Nightmare Before Christmas. While I adored the music and the simple story, I was disturbed by the twisted worldview. It portrays Halloween characters, who in themselves are not evil. They simply do their job every October 30th. But for some odd reason, no one likes the Boogie man. He is bad, and they mean really bad. It struck me as so odd. Who was to say he was worse than Jack? Where was the line? Jack the Pumpkin King was the one you cared about and loved, even though he was in fact a skeleton and the King of Halloween. But the Boogie man, though he was like any other evil Halloween character, was still the evil villain. Our hero and villain were both evil characters. A cute, creative story, but a twisted perspective.
“Do you see the problem here? Protagonists are evil, but for some odd reason they are still considered “good” compared to the villain. It’s hard to set apart the good from the evil. The reader should not have to ask, “Wait, who is the good guy here?””
After watching or reading about stories like this, I can’t help but have Philippians 4:8 come to mind. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
When we read a story, we look to the protagonist as our role model.
He is our hero. We aspire to do as he does. We obsess over him. Draw pictures of him. Talk about him constantly. Write fan fiction about him. He is our ultimate hero.
Do we want our readers to look to evil as their role model?
Our protagonist must have a depth of character that is good. An evil protagonist is not wrong, but expound on the fact that he is evil. Show that the evil is in fact wrong. Redeem him, or destroy him. Show that no good comes from evil. Depict it for the disgusting thing that it is.
The Lord of the Rings is a favorite of mine for this topic. This story can be very dark. The orcs are vile disgusting creatures. The Nazgul, are deceptive and terrifying. The goblins are grotesque. But these are all evil. Pure evil. They are the villains, and no good comes from their actions. They are destroyed. There is a bold line between the bad guys and good guys in these stories. Elves are artful, beautiful creatures, who counsel the characters in their journey. Hobbits are kind, fun-loving people, reflecting the beauty of a family. Dwarves are strong, loyal characters who are masters of crafting art in gold. I think you can see the big difference between the heroes and villains I just described.
J.R. R. Tolkien knows how to make the perfect balance of good and evil. You read his work and truly despise the evil. You see it as raw and disgusting. You know it is wrong. On the other hand, you look to good as something to aspire to. Its beauty is clear and desirable.
I mentioned Ted Dekker, and I cannot go on without explaining how he uses his own advice in his writing. The Circle series is an intense, beautiful series about our relationship with Christ and His love for us. It is a fantasy novel that has some pretty vile villains. Shataiki are demon-like creatures, who come in the form of vampire bats. Reading about them definitely makes you shudder and be fully disgusted by their vile ways. Their leader, who represents Satan, is called Teelah. This disgusting, deceptive creature is shown for what he is. Evil is evil, and there is nothing fun or exciting about it. While you look at the hero, Thomas, and also at the God figure, Elyon, it is hard not to admire them. Thomas is passionate, loyal, and fights for what is right. It is a beautiful series that I highly recommend.
It is a very debatable topic. “Is this book too dark?” or “Are the lines really blurred here?” are two questions that can be very hard to decide. So, when you are working at a book, just ask yourself, “Is this character someone I would look to for guidance?” or “Is this person a role model?”
Remember that we have a very powerful tool. Words have so much power: it is our job to handle them wisely. Let’s create characters that encourage readers to do good. Encourage them to fight for the right reasons.
Let’s make real heroes in our stories.