Friday, June 25, 2010

Natural Consequences

Giveaway Alert!!! We will randomly choose someone who posts a comment on today's discussion, and that person will win Safe at Home by Richard Doster.

When my children were small I read a childrearing book that greatly influenced the way I thought about my children and how to discipline them. It was Help! I’m a Parent! by Dr. Bruce Narramore. (And I still highly recommend it, BTW.)

One of the most important things I learned from this book was that if possible you should let your child experience the natural consequences of disobedience. Of course the range of possibilities was narrow – hot stoves, busy streets, and other dangers shouldn’t be experienced firsthand. But not picking up toys, dawdling before school, and other misbehaviors were ideal.

One thing that makes a novel satisfying is when good is rewarded and evil is conquered; that is, when natural consequences take their course and justice is served. When the author does not make that happen, there’d better be a good reason – and a bigger point to be made.

One of the reasons I love the Bible so dearly is that it shows the long-term consequences of good and evil-- in generations long after some sins were committed.

There are novels considered “great” which ignore such rules. But I never found them satisfying, edifying, or insightful. I remember reading The Crying of Lot 49 in college and turning the last page and saying, “Yeah, what?” (Which was apparently the author’s desired reaction – to show pointlessness. As a struggling college student I thought the pointless part was having to pay for the novel.)

What novels have you read recently in which good is not rewarded or in which evil prevails? Would you consider such a book a moral book? Do you know of any such books published by Christian publishers? If so, tell what your impression was of the book(s).

Next week for the topic of the week I'll be discussing unlikeable/amoral/immoral central characters, including those who seem to triumph.


Wendy Paine Miller said...

Wow, what a great discussion starter today. I'm going to have to think about a book that does that. If evil prevails I'd have to think a pretty powerful underlying message exists for the book to be moral. I'm going to have to sit on this one...think on it.

Also, as a side I'm reading one of the best parenting books I've ever read right now--Grace Based Parenting. And I've read a lot. (I need all the help I can get.)

I'll be offline next week. Sounds like I'll miss another thought-provoking topic.

~ Wendy

Cindy R. Wilson said...

That's a great question. I am thinking hard on it but can't come up with a book I've read recently where good doesn't triumph over evil.

I love character-based fiction largely because of character growth--people moving into greater freedom in their lives often because of a spiritual revelation or understanding. In my mind this is all about good triumphing over evil. So I guess I'm drawn to fiction where I know there will be that element of triumph in the end.

Patti Hill said...

I'm reading the Old Testament in chronological order. There is always a lesson, and justice is exacted in pretty messy ways, but I marvel at God's willingness to use negative motivations and outcomes to teach a lesson.

For instance, Israel went through generations of heartache because they wanted to be like everyone else with a king. That did not work out well for them. And God wasn't afraid to use their sin to teach that our only Faithful and True King is Jesus.

I don't think God says anywhere, "Neener, neener, you got what you asked for and deserved. You should have looked to Me, you sillies." He leaves that conclusion up to the reader.

I think we should have the same confidence in our readers.

Not exactly what you were looking for, Latayne, but you know me.

Patti Hill said...

BTW, as an English major I read tons of stories that left me saying, "Huh?" It's postmodern to be ambiguous about right and wrong. I find it terribly unsatisfying. All those books were sold back to the bookstore. Can recall one title, only the feeling of having the plug pulled out.

Terri Tiffany said...

I absolutely hate books that do that. Probably because I'm me and yes I would have felt like I'd wasted my time. I couldn't even tell you the title of the books I'm currently reading unless I get out of my chair and walk into my living room where they are stacked on my couch so I can't think of the titles of any like you asked:(

Nicole said...

Some series novels in the thriller genre allow for evil triumphing at the end of each book but not in the overall end of story.

Not into evil triumphing. At all. Probably why I love Mitch Rapp in the Vince Flynn novels. Evil surely happens but never truly triumphs.

Bonnie Grove said...

I read lots of Canadian grown fiction, and many US friends may not know this, but we are a dark lot up here. Our lit often explores darker subjects - and we adore examining systemic problems such as racism, bureaucracy's reaching effects, generational sins played out in the lives of children, the negative effect of certain cultural practices. . . on and on. So, yes, I've read lots of novels and short stories that have evil as, if not trumping good, at least been recognized as something that is perpetuated long past it's original impact - reaching even beyond the scope of the story.

A great example of this done well is Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

The only book I can think of, and I haven't read it yet, is "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas." by John Boyne. I actually can't bring myself to read it; too much imagination. Then there's "The Diary of Anne Frank" But when I think of the miracle that the book survived and how much power it has on readers today I think perhaps Good has triumphed after all. God is good and brings good from the very darkest evil.

Kathleen Popa said...

You know, I can't think of any books I've read in which the good did not triumph. I think the reason is that the books I select tend to be similar in certain ways. I'm one who is easily swayed by endorsements, and if I see the words "hopeful," "redemptive," or "magical" on the cover, I'm halfway to the checkout counter.

I have seen some dark movies though, because I'm more likely to let other people pick out films if we're watching together. Sophie's Choice comes to mind, and so does A Dry White Season. I can put up with a small amount of violence, and a good amount of sorrow, but at the end of the story, I'd best be rewarded with something hopeful for all my suffering.

Linda said...

When I read a book that isn't what I figured it should be spiritually, my first question is, "And this was written for WHAT reason"? I need some reconciliation or redemptive to flow from the story line. That's what Christian books are about.

desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

Linda said...

Forgot to name a book: "Panic Attack", but don't remember the author. I felt empty after reading it, as the characters we left with only bitterness and revenge.

Anonymous said...

Latayne, I really enjoyed this post and the comments. I think the fact that we can point to few if any satisfying novels where evil triumphs over good, and that every commenter pretty much feels cheated and disappointed if good doesn't triumph over evil- I think that shows that our spirits long for the Truth because, after all, we are made in the image of the Truthmaker.

Jan Cline said...

There is nothing more disappointing than coming to the end of a book and being...well...disappointed. There have been some books that I swear had the last chapter torn out!

Latayne C Scott said...

Nicole, you are the winner of Safe at Home by Richard Doster. (You were randomly chosen by asking my husband to pick a number. You can't get any more random than that, especially when you ask the question during a televised sports event.:)

So email us at NovelMatters and we'll send it out! Congratulations, and thank you for your comment.

Latayne C Scott said...

Wendy, I want to encourage you to read all the godly books on parenting you can find, and ask advice from people who have raised children "successfully" from the Lord's point of view.

Cindy, I agree with you that the element of triumph at the end of a novel -- either at the end of the written words, or the "end" of the conclusions the reader draws-- is essential. I think that's what Nicole and Bonnie were saying too: that a novel lives on and continues to work in the mind of the reader long after the last page has been turned.

Terri -- I bet my TBR stack is bigger than your TBR stack; as Patti would say, Neener Neener. (smile)

Patii, I agree that God never rejoices in our suffering. In fact, I get a glimpse into His generosity and His own sense of betrayal when I read what He said to David after he ordered the death of Uriah:

Then Nathan said to David, "You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! Why have you despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon.' "

That's no satisfaction in the voice of God, it's mourning and sorrow. I think the same emotions should be evoked when we read or hear of the sins of anyone (including our own.)

Katy and Linda, I hear you responding to the fact that "Christian" literature, and any literature that purports to tell the truth about good and evil, raises expectations. When those expectations are not met (see Patti and Terri and Linda's responses), we feel cheated. And rightfully so. The world is NOT purposeless, events are NOT random, and God redeems and gives meaning to even those things that seem senseless. I agree so wholeheartedly with Sharon's characterization of God as the Truthmaker and our innate yearning for His own truth.

Henrietta is right. We have to have the "long view" of things, a view that is sometimes in our own experiences not vindicated until after our own deaths. I think of what Joseph in Egypt said to his brothers at the end of his life... "Now I know. . ." But apparently he didn't know for a long, long time.

Jan, your thought about some novels having the last chapter being torn out brought up an issue with me. Don't you think that unresolved and morally ambiguous endings put too much pressure on the reader to supply something that the author owed to the reader? Just thinking.

One of the reasons that this is such a big issue for me is that my WIP concerns the book of Hebrews -- which makes the point in the middle of chapter 11 that some life-issues stay unresolved through the lives of Christians - that we are only perfected as a group, only given full understanding in eternity.

Great responses, everyone. Thank you so much.