Refusal

I refuse to go to the Dark Side. I can bake my own cookies.

So many writers — most particularly, so many modern writers (not a coincidence!) — impress upon us eager young things the theory that no writing is good (read: interesting, attractive, marketable) unless it is dark. Modern fantasy is dark; modern mystery is grotesque; modern romance is “paranormal.” You can’t say “abnormal” or downright “weird,” of course, because it doesn’t sound as alluring … or something.

The darkness of this world has consumed the modern writer. Only, however, because he has allowed himself to be consumed.

I often suffer from this illusion as well. So much of life seems dark and bleak and dreary. I am impatient; I am pessimistic; I tend to catch hold of little flies in my ointment and concentrate on them, focus on them, forgetting the existence of any other thing. One irksome burden will overcome every possible delight of the day. Β I give in to the whispered horrors, and all I can see is darkness.

I cannot let myself do this. The darkness is not the reality. The despair is not the truth. We must remember: evil is not a positive thing, but the absence of a positive thing. Evil is the absence of good, in both fiction and reality. As dear Miss Prism reminds us,Β “The good end happily, and the bad unhappily; that is what fiction means.” Not only does this apply to fiction, but to non-fiction as well: good always conquers evil, if not in this world, then certainly in the next.

Many old writers, good writers, brilliant writers, found the art and style to express themselves with joy and flair and panache, dealing with the darkness as a knight deals with a dragon: with strength, with grace, with truth. G. K. Chesterton is a perfect example of this; the man writes nothing but nonsense, yet it is nonsense that surpasses so much stuffy bombast that others flaunt as sense. J. R. R. Tolkien, a modern favorite (ironically, IMHO, considering who he truly is), expresses the struggle between good and evil (where, you will notice, good always wins) in some of the most poetic, sublime, soul-wrenching prose ever written by man.

What is great literature? What are some of its qualities? Certainly not darkness. Certainly not perversion. Certainly not lies. Great literature, like great lives, must be based on truth and goodness and beauty. This is not to say we should all write more Anne of Green Gables. It’s a lovely story, of course, and the characters deal with their own struggles and temptations, but, for most of us, its idyllic setting and low-key episodes do not reflect the deeper struggles, the heavier burdens many carry. As humans, we are limited, fallen, weak; we have our “dark” moments, we struggle with temptation, we experience our own horrors and our own nightmares come to life, and we see them surrounding the rest of the world as well.

We cannot let it consume us, though.

If we are all “writing” our own stories of life, we must not forget: every hero suffers trials and tribulations; every hero must traverse the darkness to reach the light. Otherwise he wouldn’t be human; he would be a robot, and there would be no story. But after conquering his dragons, after enduring his hardships, the hero comes home. He completes his story: he ends happily. His enemies are consumed by the darkness, and he may now walk in the light.

Even in our darkest moments, even when we’re stuck in another frigid February, on a Tuesday, after bad arguments with our best friends … even when suffering heartbreak, or injustice, or loss, this is not It. This is still the journey. We haven’t ended yet.

Basil sends his love, by the way, and hopes you are well, and says he will stop by one of these days for a chat. So he says.

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10 thoughts on “Refusal

  1. blueroses says:

    Thanks for the inspiration! I’m off to fight that dragon right now!
    I would love to have Basil over any time, by the way. I’ll keep the kettle on, just in case.

  2. jubilare says:

    “The darkness is not the reality. The despair is not the truth. We must remember: evil is not a positive thing, but the absence of a positive thing. Evil is the absence of good, in both fiction and reality.”
    Yes.

    “As dear Miss Prism reminds us, ‘The good end happily, and the bad unhappily; that is what fiction means.'” Mm…. maybe, in a loose sense, but you seem to cover that, as well.

    What I love about Tolkien is not only the contrast between dark and light, but his ability to prove that light persists and will eventually prevail against all the odds that we, at least, can see. His characters fight “the long defeat” but somehow we know that in the end, they are on the winning side. I only hope we can do as much in our storytelling.

    Tell Basil to watch out. Some of mine can be pretty gregarious and have poor impulse control. πŸ˜‰

    • You are absolutely correct: Miss Prism’s statement is a blatant generalization, and not to be taken as a universal truth. Hamlet, for example, would be an impossibility under this paradigm. However, I do believe that literature should represent truth and justice and mercy to the world, and this requires good to be rewarded and evil punished.

      Tolkien is truly inspiring. Think of just Sam’s insistence that “there is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.” It’s such a consoling thought!

      “Poor impulse control” is exactly how to describe Basil. I mean, he’s the sort of character who decides he’s going to pull all the books out of the library and re-order them according to word count or something. Like, really?

      • jubilare says:

        Mm, I think I may be hearing something that you aren’t saying. After all, you were saying in a previous post that sometimes your heroes die. It sounds as if you are saying that the only way to represent truth, justice and mercy in literature is for the good to be rewarded and the evil punished (presumably this side of the grave, unless you follow them over).
        I agree that the current trends that assume cynicism is the only “truth” and that eucatastrophes are wishful thinking are way off-base. I have no intention of bowing to assumptions like that, either. It’s the balance that interests me. The balance between not denying the harshness of a fallen universe or the powerful themes of hope, love, mercy and justice maintained by a loving creator. πŸ™‚

        Mm… I love Sam.

        Hm… he is not allowed near my library. I have a hard enough time rounding up my documents as-is.

      • Sorry, I am expressing myself very poorly. No, I certainly do not think every story can or even should end with a “happily ever after.” It doesn’t work like that; it wouldn’t be truthful or realistic at all. I guess what I mean is I always look for some sort of closure or redemption in a story. Stories like “Lucy Gayheart,” “Ethan Frome,” even “Les Miserables” are just so downright miserable — they give so little hope of light in them, so little redemption or satisfaction, I come away from the book feeling as if life is just hell, and there is no hope for anything anymore. I once had this discussion with a professor: could you imagine a Sherlock Holmes story where Holmes doesn’t solve the mystery, doesn’t catch the criminal, doesn’t give the audience closure? Readers would be up in arms! Even if it painful closure (Reinbach Falls, anyone?), the reader is satisfied. There is an end: you can close the book and know it ended as it was supposed to end. There is no moral cliff-hanger, so to speak … ? But I’m rambling now …

        No, that’s not what it is, is it? Ok, hmmm. Let me sleep on this. Maybe I’ve taken a phrase too far πŸ™‚

  3. lcooney12 says:

    Well put. There is evil and darkness in the world and we cannot ignore it, but just because it is there does not mean it should consume us. It is the thing we fight again, and one way authors (like yourself) fight is to write what is true, beautiful, and sublime. Thank you for seeking to do this, Blue. Go, fight, win!

  4. jubilare says:

    I think you are expressing yourself well enough. It’s a difficult thing to talk about as we don’t really have words for what we are discussing. Context helps.

    “I come away from the book feeling as if life is just hell, and there is no hope for anything anymore.”

    I can definitely relate to this, and it has a large impact on how I evaluate a book (or film, or tv series). I can recognize merit as the author/creator achieving his or her intent, but if I am left with hopelessness, despair, or extreme frustration, then I am not likely to return to a work or recommend it to anyone. I still want to curl up into a ball when I think of Lord of the Flies. There are stories I avoid simply because I do not trust the creator to pull anything out of the story that I would want to keep, if that makes sense.

    It seems we are pretty much on the same page, here, I was just curious. Like some of my characters, I have poor impulse control. I am ever drawn to prod things when I see a possible fallacy. If nothing else, I tend to learn things when I do this. πŸ˜‰ Thank you for obliging me with a discussion!

    • That’s it! Having nothing to draw and keep from the story when it’s done. Maybe that’s it πŸ™‚ And I agree; we’re pretty much splitting hairs … But yes, absolutely, do let’s keep up discussions. I like discussing things. I like being proven wrong! (well, ok, I don’t like the part where I’m wrong; I like the part where I become right!)

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