True Evil in Christian Fiction: Where Do You Stand?

Two things happened recently which made me want to explore this question, which is a rather broad one: Should there be evil … true evil … in Christian fiction?

The first thing that made me begin thinking about it was a conversation I had with a family member. She told me that she couldn’t understand why books had to be so full of evil. She just wanted to be able to pick up a book that gave her a sense of peace and happiness. Why bad guys? Why horrible obstacles?

The second thing that made me question this was a 1-star Goodreads reviewer who emailed to explain to me that she didn’t enjoy my book because it was “filled with witchcraft and premarital romance.” This example is a bit extreme, especially if you’ve read my book, and I have to admit I didn’t let it effect me greatly. In my book the small amount of magic used is certainly not glorified (although magic is a whole other blog post, honestly …). Also, I’m happy to say that I myself didn’t venture into marital romance without a bit of premarital romance first … I’m afraid of what the consequences would have been if I had, and certainly wouldn’t wish such a thing on my characters or anyone else! 🙂

However, after hearing the words and views of my reviewer and of my relative, I still had to wonder. Where does evil have its place in Christian fiction? What do you, as evil in christian fictionreaders and Christians, believe?

Is magic wrong, even when it is used solely by the antagonist? Is romance (the holding hands, kissing, puppy love kind) wrong for Christian teens (or anyone else, for that matter) to see? Where do you draw the line? And is it wrong to depict evil – you know, the kind that makes you shiver and feel like your stomach has dropped – within the confines of a Christian story with a God-glorifying theme?

I’ll admit, sometimes my tastes in reading and my personal beliefs don’t perfectly coincide. I suspect we’re all guilty of this in one way or another. I like reading about epic battles, and magic, and mysterious murders. Does that mean I’m going to grab a sword and run someone through, or sit pining for my letter from Hogwarts to come … or worse yet, go kill someone? No, not even a teensy bit.

In my opinion, reading about sin only becomes a sin itself when you find pleasure in the evil you see. More so when you not only take pleasure in reading about it, but take it to the next level and perhaps indulge in it yourself. As I heard Bob Ross say (as he was painting happy trees …) on a recent re-run, “You have to add the dark to make the light more striking.” He was speaking about painting, of course, but the minute he said those words, I thought, “Yes! That’s exactly it!” And so it is.

It was much like I told my relative after she expressed her concern over evil in stories. I explained to her that, as a writer myself, my desire is for my stories to mirror the world we live in, the battles (sometimes invisible) we fight every day against an evil that is all too real. To show the reader that evil (whether it takes the form of magic or murder or any other immoral thing), and then to show her a heroine much like herself who overcomes that evil … what could be more powerful than that? What else could leave such a deep sense of peace? Even – no, especially – if that hero or heroine overcomes the evil with grace and mercy and love, things God fully intends us to overcome our real-life troubles with.

So where do all these preferences and beliefs, so seemingly at war with each other, leave me? With several questions, actually, for myself and for you:

  1. Where do we draw the line when reading for entertainment about things we may not morally agree with?
  2. What if truly evil things come only from the antagonist in a story? Are they still wrong to read about?
  3. If we protect ourselves from all thoughts, books, and talk of the things we don’t believe in or agree with, what could be the possible consequences of that, for better or worse?
  4. How much responsibility do we take, as readers, for the direction of our thoughts and actions in relation to what we read, and how much responsibility lies with the author? What does that responsibility entail (for reader or author?).

You, as my readers and friends, have opinions that are extremely important to me. Opinions that I want – and need – to hear, if my future books are to be ones you will want to read. So what do you think? Do you have answers to any of these questions? Opinions? Questions of your own? I want to hear them!

____________

For some interesting and varying thoughts on magic and romance in Christian fiction, you may want to check out these articles:

Standing Up for Magic

Fantasy Magic and the Christian Author

Magic in Christian Fantasy

How Far Should Couples Go in Christian Fiction?

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About bookishashlee

Ashlee is the author of The Word Changers, a Christian YA fantasy that released June 2014.

Posted on January 7, 2015, in Authors, Books, Christian, Reading, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Very true. A story without any darkness is completely unrealistic as well, and it’s hard to draw inspiration from stories that don’t seem to apply to our current darkness. And the most encouraging, inspirational, and Christian story of them all – Jesus’s death resurrection – is filled with darkness. Betrayal, torture, death… All of it highlights the immense sacrifice and glory of the resurrection.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Warning: this is going to be a rather long comment.

    My personal view on magic is that it depends on the magic system. If it’s genuine power-from-the-devil-type magic (or “black magic”), I’m fine with the bad guys using it but no one else. If it’s something more like magic in the Inheritance Cycle, where it’s a neutral power that some people can use and some can’t, I’m cool with just about anyone using it.

    And to answer your questions:
    If a villain is doing truly evil things, fine. He’s the villain. That’s what he’s supposed to do, and as long as you don’t give me graphic description of stuff, I’m fine with reading about it.
    If a protagonist is doing things I don’t morally agree with, that’s slightly more complicated. Obviously, if the thing is portrayed as wrong- something that the character does in his blackest moment or a problem he needs to overcome- then again, don’t give me graphic details and I’m fine. I may have a harder time liking the character, but still. If it’s not portrayed as wrong, it kind of depends what the thing is. Like, if someone goes around murdering innocent people and I’m supposed to think it’s good, I’m not going to read that book. Likewise, on the romance front (which is where I have most of my problems): if sex before marriage or same-sex couples are a major part of the story, I’m not going to be all that interested in reading it. But if it’s a secular novel and the thing I don’t agree with is a very small part of the story, I might still read the story (skipping over inappropriate scenes) because that’s the world we live in, and just because I don’t agree with it doesn’t mean I can’t acknowledge that it exists and is something that needs to be changed. Ignoring a problem will not make it go away.
    However, if I read a novel that contains things I don’t agree with, I have to make sure that I don’t let those things change my beliefs. I have to make sure I’m not dwelling on those things and that I remember that they are wrong, even if a lot of people do them.
    Thanks for doing this thoughtful post. I hope my answers were helpful.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Very insightful! I agree with you, I shy away from books where the protagonists are doing things that are sinful, but which are portrayed as good. I feel that, no matter how strong of a Christian someone may be, those things can eventually worm their way into a person’s thinking if they see or read about them enough. One of the reasons God tells us to think on “true, pure, noble, admirable, praiseworthy” things … because our thoughts are the key to our actions.

      And all you said about magic … yeah, me too 😉

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  3. I think you bring up valid questions. As a fellow author of Christian Speculative Fiction, I choose not to shy away from evil in my novels. We live in a broken world, the sin of man caused this to be the case. So I do not hesitate in showing evil. And I do not think evil should be shown through the antagonist only.
    Even Christians are capable of evil doings because we are capable of sin. We are human. Is it not a bigger testament to our faith to show Christ’s redemption through out characters? Evil is a part of life, a part of our fallen world as acknowledged in the Bible and by Jesus himself. He was not offended by it. He love gave us a way to overcome it when he dies for us. It’s the greatest story in humanity . . . good conquering evil. Why NOT exemplify it in fiction?

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad you mentioned that! It’s something I was speaking to my husband about the other day – how the books I tend to end up loving are the ones that show people as the truly are, with a confusing mixture of good and evil within them. No black-and-white characters who fit neatly into the good guys/bad guys camps. How much more powerful (to me, at least!) to see a character who not only conquers an outside evil preying on him, but the evil within as well!

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  4. I wouldn’t be able to answer all of these questions, since I myself am not sure about some of them. However, my thoughts on this are these:

    Since there is evil in the world, we do need to portray it in books. Because otherwise these books have no point. The purpose of books is to show how good always prevails over evil. We have no other way to show what is good except if we show what is evil. There’s a song somewhere which has these lyrics: “The shadow proves the sunshine,” which I think goes with this argument. This is what I have on this topic; I really need to think more about it. =)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I definitely knew what I felt about these questions … but I wasn’t sure what I actually believed until I thought about it in more depth. Love that quote, too! Exactly what I was trying to say!

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  5. When I was in my teens, there wasn’t much out there for fantasy Christian fiction. I read C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, but I didn’t like most of what was available for teen Christian readers at the time. It felt too fluffy to me. Perfect people dealing with minor problems. It didn’t seem real the way Narnia or Middle-earth felt real.

    When I was in 9th grade, we read The Hobbit together as a class and we had lots of discussions on evil and magic in books. What my teacher said shaped how I look at writing evil and magic in my own books.

    1. Fiction should mirror reality. This reality is not the “reality” we see around us but the reality of the Bible. What do I mean by this? “Reality” tells us it is hopeless and truth can be changed. God’s reality tells us that this world is filled with evil (we shouldn’t bury our heads in the sand about it) but that there is hope. A book that mirrors this, whether a Christian book or a secular book, is one that I would read or write.

    2. Evil should be condemned. I’ll admit, I sometimes write on the darker side of Christian fiction. I’m not afraid to have some pretty evil characters do some awful things. My main characters are flawed. But whatever sin my villains or my main characters might commit is condemned as sin. The characters either realize they are wrong or the consequences in the book show they are wrong. This doesn’t have to be a preachy kind of condemnation, but we can see in even secular books we read where a character who makes a mistake has to deal with the consequences of that mistake.

    Sarah, like you I am fine with books where magic is portrayed as simply a power that people can use for good or evil. After all, both Lewis and Tolkien had both their bad guys AND their good guys use magic. In both of their cases, magic is a form of power. Looking at it this way, then power belongs to the good guys and God (think the Deep Magic in Narnia). The bad guys use magic, but it is always a twisted form of the true, good magic. Doesn’t this mirror what happens in real life? God is the source of power. Satan merely uses a twisted form of the power God allows him to have.

    I’ll admit, in my current WIP, I steered away from the whole magic thing by not including any magic in the story, even though it has a fantasy feel to it. But it does have a lot of evil and darkness in it, probably because one of the themes is about the distinction between darkness and light. Ashlee, I love that quote about darkness making the light more distinct! I’m going to have to remember that!

    Sorry, this comment is really long. I could probably keep going, but I think I’ll save the rest of my thoughts for my own blog post on this someday!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ooh, not too long of an answer at all! I love it, and I think I agree with everything you said. Thanks so much for your in-depth comments and answers … I’m gonna have to read through them again just to get the full effect, I have a feeling 🙂 … and I’ll keep my eyes open for your blog post about this. I’d love to read it!

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  6. The point all fairy tales make is that good always conquers evil. A book–particularly a fantasy–wouldn’t be nearly as good without true evil, and true good. Why change a good thing? I think you’re doing an excellent job portraying “evil” in your books. Those villains of yours are perfectly evil. 🙂 You’ve done a very good job balancing the good and bad appropriately, in my opinion!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Aw, thank you Clara 🙂 How very sweet! And yes, why change a good thing? The pattern of good and evil in books is one that will never stop resonating with readers on every level!

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  8. When writing an epic story, it’s absolutely necessary to reflect our state of the world, which is evil. The Bible is filled with stories of truly heinous deeds, committed by villains and heroes alike. Although character’s motivations and hearts might be blurred or sympathetic in a story, the evil should eventually be shown wrong.

    One thing I’m always wary of is evil that includes sexual sin, just because I personally don’t handle it very well. But it is there, and I’m not opposed to it in stories, just how they write it.

    The same goes for me in romance. I prefer what I read and write not to be too physically descriptive, because it can be stumbling for some readers, and because I feel just plain nosy get every detail of a passionate kiss or something. But I LOVE a good romance.

    When it comes to magic, I’m always a bit wary of magic that takes place in our world, because I believe in God and I don’t like it when writers ignore or explain him away. I’m much more lenient with magic in another world. However, some Christian writers who blended fantasy into our world very well include C.S. Lewis and your own good self, Ashlee Willis!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hannah, I’m sure I don’t deserve such praise! But I certainly value it coming from you! Thank you 🙂

      I think you are wise to be wary of any kind of sin in books. And it’s like you say, a lot of it has to do with how it is portrayed. You brought up a good point, too … if a sin is a stumbling block for someone, it may be best for that person to avoid reading about it, even if it’s something another Christian may handle well.

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  9. I absolutely agree with you! I don’t have time to answer your questions right now, but I just want to let you know that I agree with you. Also, I find it rather funny that the woman who emailed you disliked your book so much because of premarital romance. In my personal opinion, if there isn’t any romance/emotions/feelings before marriage, wouldn’t the marriage possibly qualify as arranged? There has to be at least a tad of that romance beforehand. 😉 Some people just don’t like it, I suppose, but that’s purely their opinion.

    -Tialla

    Liked by 1 person

    • My thoughts exactly, Tialla! Some people don’t like romance in books, and that’s fine. But I firmly believe God created romance in real-life for our pleasure and also for glorifying Him. Romantic relationships between a man and a woman (especially those with God involved!) can be such beautiful, wonderful things! Even the Bible is full of “premarital romance” examples!! (gasp!) Hehe 🙂

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  10. I think there needs to be darkness to make the light brighter. I didn’t particularly like the romance you had in your book, but the magic is fine. I really enjoy books with magic, weather it is the good or evil people who wield it. One of my favourite quotes; “Magic is neither good nor evil. Is a knife evil? Only if the wielder is.”

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  11. I really liked this post. I think this question comes upon often in the Christian genre. I think the best thing to do, what I try to do as a writer, is not to go for depicting evil or good. Our aim should be to depict the truth. There is both good and evil in the world. The Bible depicts both, accurately, and it’s message of hope and love is triumphant over the evil.

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  12. Basically, what you said. 🙂 (And the highly intelligent commenters as well!) Magic is a topic for another day… By its fruits you shall know it… Good is good and evil is evil, no matter whether it’s labeled “magic” in fiction or not. ^_^

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  13. I wrote a nice long comment yesterday, but then my computer hiccuped, ate it, and then wouldn’t let me come back to your blog. Real nice of it.

    But the gist of it was this: I personally have no issues with magic in fantasy, provided that it is presented as either the natural way in which a world works (existing within a book with time repeating over and over, for instance), the supernatural way in which God works (such as miracles), or the unnatural way in which the devil works (or, witchcraft).

    As much as I like happy stories, I do want a proper measure of darkness. I like to see the point where I despair of good ever prevailing, and then, when all seems darkest and most hopeless, it does.

    And I had other thoughts, but I misplaced them.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I couldn’t agree more Ashlee. To take the evil (or good) out of a story is to destroy it. I know not how stories will be fashioned in the next life, but in this one they serve the vital purpose of reflecting our own course of action back to us. They cooperate with the still small voice to redeem us.

    As the song goes, “You only know how low is low the first time that you fly.” Adam and Eve were clueless of both the depths of evil and the heights of good. It is through rooting for heroes who struggle against villainous archetypes that children learn how repulsive evil is and how attractive is good.

    Such stories are critical for children. As I have written about on my blog, I believe children learn as much or more from the villain as they do from the hero. Where do we draw the line between the counterparts? By nature there is a villain within each of us, but the hero is only there by God’s grace.

    And it’s not only the contrast between a hero and a villain. Whether it is King Manasseh of Judah or Maleficent, nothing moves the heart like a truly repentant villain. God reveals no greater power in this world than the conversion of an evil man, even the man we see in the mirror.

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