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. 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, “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.