Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Pope and Harry Potter

As reported this week in USA Today, the Vatican praised the latest Harry Potter film for making the battle of good vs. evil 'crystal clear' and for affirming that 'sometimes this requires cost and sacrifice.' In these days of movies that blur the lines into shades of gray, the film gave a black and white no-nonsense depiction of the dark side = Evil is scary stuff that leads to bad consequences.

I found this to be a bold stance taken by the Vatican, considering the controversy that has surrounded Harry for many years now. Perhaps conservative readers will be influenced to take a second look at the books. After all, the Pope is a pretty influential guy. But then again, maybe not.

To follow up on Patti's post on Monday, how much responsibility do Christian authors carry for the words they write? We certainly pray over our ideas and scenes and story lines. But having done that, and being unable to predict or control the reader's response, do we boldly go and trust God to lead, or do we soft-pedal the evil or tone down the sin for fear of offending? I'm not referring to the use of swearing or sexuality or gratuitous violence. I'm speaking of story. The Bible doesn't merely suggest that David and Bathsheba were engaging in heavy necking. It was a clear case of sexual sin and wrongful death with no happy ending. I doubt that their story would make it through a committee today without at least the suggestion of a different, more redemptive resolution. And we might ask, who would want to read it? We look for positive, uplifting stories in these stressful days. But it was an important story that needed to be told.

As writers, we play our stories close to the vest and rely on God's leading. We take our calling seriously. But if - or when - He asks us to color outside the lines, to depict evil clearly and consequences fully, will we argue with Him, or will we grab a brand new 'Hot Magenta' crayon and have at it? What do you think readers would have to say about it?


Nicole said...

Not trying to be flippant here, Deb, but readers will say just about everything about it. The Love Inspired line of readers will kvetch about sexual tensions lived out in words attributing some graphics to them. Horror readers will pooh-pooh (or is it poo-poo?) the tame stuff without "real" violence and genuine evil, and the middle of the road readers will have their own lines they don't want crossed in the novels they read.

And all this does is accentuate the need for writers who, while being obedient to the Spirit in their writing, tell stories for all of these groups, needfully inserting the One who brings truth whether directly or obtusely to the story.

Writers and readers can be so argumentative as they campaign for what they prefer or how they believe anything should be written. Can't we just "write and let write"? If we have criticisms, it seems we can figure out ways to express them without condemning others in the process. We're definitely not going to like everything written--that's a given.

We do need to write the stories the Lord gives us to tell, and they're not going to be the same--at least I hope not. Some readers enjoy formulaic, but readers like me do not. So write in the fullness of the Spirit so you can be true to your unique calling.

Guess you hit a nerve there. Sorry.

Laura J. Davis said...

I have read all of the Harry Potter books and seen all the movies. I have always felt that the controversy surrounding them was highly inflated, by Christians who didn't bother to read the books and just assumed the worst. In fact, I would have to say that The Lord of The Rings, a book Christians seemed to embrace right away simply because its author was a Christian, was far more objectionable than Harry Potter, in terms of magic and wizardry.

I have enjoyed the Harry Potter books/movies. The Pope is right in his assessment that they clearly point to the victory over good vs. evil. However, these are by no means Christian books/movies. They do not suggest that the 'good' is God. Clearly, the 'good' is what humanity can bring from within themselves when pushed against something so obviously evil. I would say the same rings true of Lord of the Rings. To hold J.K. Rowling up to the same standards as Christian writers is absurd, as she does not call herself a Christian writer.

We on the other hand do call ourselves Christian writers. So, how much responsibility do Christian writers have? A great deal I'm afraid. You can be called to be a writer and write what you want like J.K. Rowling, but if you are a Christian that has been called to write, then it's not just a career, it's a ministry.
Your writing voice now becomes God's instrument to the world. Do we soft-soap everything in order not to offend? I don't think so, but at the same time we don't use erotica or filthy language on every page to make our characters 'real'. There are other ways to do that. We are not just writing for the lost, but we are also writing to encourage and build up the body of Christ. That is a calling to all Christians, no matter their career choice. Would God ever ask us to grab a 'Hot Magenta' as you put it, and have at it? He could, but I still think that His Holy Spirit, would not allow us to colour too far out of those lines.

Bonnie Grove's recent 'Talking to the Dead' is a great example of how a Christian writer can show 'evil' (Kevin's affair), without going into explicit details.

Janet said...

Actually, Laura, Rowling probably would consider herself a Christian writer, seeing as she is church-attending Anglican who writes. She does not try to write Christian literature, but that is a different issue. Tolkien did not try to write Christian literature either, although he did consciously try to work Christian themes and motifs into his work. I would be hard put to find the line separating Rowling and Tolkien, myself. Ponder a minute the significance of King's Cross Station in the last Potter book, keeping in mind Rowling's very deliberate use of meaningful names, and a good argument could be made that she, if anything, was more deliberately Christian than Tolkien in her writing.

Debbie, I love your point about some Biblical stories being outside the pale for the CBA market. I certainly hope that Christian publishers are starting to see the foolishness of that. My question is, how well can they handle gray? The Bible is full of grays (think of when God fought FOR Ahab, for instance) but we so seldom tackle them head-on. Or the fact that fornication and adultery were handled in two very different ways under Old Testament law. I don't know if I've ever heard a sermon on that... Being resolutely Biblical means embracing ambiguity sometimes. Can we deal with that? As writers, HOW should we deal with that?

Loren said...

I think it is good to be truthful and sometimes the truth is ugly. However, writers should be aware of their sphere of influence and never mislead readers in an evil way by glorifying unholy actions. Writers who make the occult seem cool and attractive bother me quite a bit.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Thank you ladies for your insightful comments. I apologize for not responding earlier - my employer frowns on blogging during work hours!

Nicole, you voiced it perfectly in 'write and let write' and be true to the calling for the types of books God puts on our hearts. I'm grateful for the variety, too.

Laura, along with Bonnie's 'Talking to the Dead' I would add Sharon's 'Lying on Sunday' and Patti's 'Queen of Sleepy Eye' (without giving spoilers) as examples for handling situations of sin with grace and not shying away from the ugly aftermath. Katy's got one up her sleeve, too. I was not suggesting that God would ask us to color outside of His lines, but rather the lines that are sometimes drawn by others.

Janet, embracing Biblical ambiguity in writing would make a great topic. I would love to see one of my fellow bloggers tackle that one. (It sounds like a 'Latayne' topic to me - she's such a brainiac!)

Loren Christie, I think it would be safe to say that the power of the written word is a great weight on the shoulders of all Christian authors as they begin each new book. It would be nice if we all took a moment to let our favorite authors know we were praying for them.