Sunday, October 04, 2009

Writing Fantasy Can Get You "Excommunicated"

This is a news bit from last year, Nov of 2008, but since I have not really kept up with stuff literary or newsy or online-y for more than a year, I only caught this just now:

Christian author of fantasy disfellowshipped for writing a vampire novel.

I give Mr. Lewis great credit for not showing any meanness toward his disfellowshippers. I'd be quite miffed and maybe not so charitable, which just goes to show what an immature stinker I am. :)

In an interview, he said this:

6) How has this ordeal affected your faith? And your family?

Not to sound overly dramatic, but it felt like God was personally turning his back on me. And since the Elders didn’t just hold me responsible, they held my wife responsible, too… I really can’t describe the turmoil it unleashed in my home. Things have calmed down considerably, but it’s still an issue we deal with every day. It’s silly of me to hold God responsible for what are essentially the actions of a few men, but for awhile I was very angry with Him.

I haven't read the novel, but I can see from the synopsis what would make more than a few of the members/elders/pastors in my former Southern Baptist fellowship have a holy cow. Maybe a half dozen of them. But I would hope they wouldn't use some of the less than saintly tactics that seemed to have been employed in this disfellowshipping, even if in the end they found that what I wrote was violating some holy law.

Granted, there are folks who think if you have a character who uses cuss words, you've just shattered the sanctum, and that's a way of thinking that is just too boxy for me to accept as legit. But I can see where there are some works a leadership can discuss and unanimously agree is corruptive, in which case, the author and church just don't fit well.

And when I see the surveys that show more and more people are refusing to be involved with organized religion and do their worship at home or in informal groups, I think the sort of heavy-handed elder/pastor restrictions may play a part in this. So many iconoclasts in the Bible were unacceptable to the leaders of their day, would be considered oddballs today, and somewhere we forget to leave room for those who are a bit odd, strange, loud, visionary, and offensive, even.

Not that writing of vampire sex may be the route to holiness, mind you. :) I can see where this would be a cause for discussion with elders, sure. But after all the uproar over Harry Potter, and even the comments I recall seeing about WIND FOLLOWER, a novel I saw as truly God-honoring and Bible-infused, I got purely tired of shaking my head at what some Christians have to say about literature of the fantastic. I cannot live in a 10 x 10 literary cell.

If the fictional depiction of humanity is not somewhat offensive or very offensive to some or all to some degree, it's probably not very honest--that's my philosophy. People can be luminous and people can be full of love and people can majorly suck and people can be so terrifying it's hard to keep one's poop in one's bowels contemplating the horrors we visit upon each other.

Vampires are, in general, gonna be humans warped to a higher order of uncleanness (generally, I say, since we can have good vamps and funny vamps), so to write about vampires probably means you're gonna write very dark and scary and offensive stuff--to non-vampires for sure and to those seeking saintliness even moreso (or less so, if the saint involved is well aware of the dark side of mankind as opposed to highly self-protective and sheltered.)

Since I believe the reason I enjoy fantasy is not just for the "oohh--wheee" fun factor of the weird and magical, but because the skewing of reality allows fantasists to comment pointedly on the human and social conditions beyond the mere material (ie, the spirit/soul/eternal figures into this, too), I expect the darkness of that which is dark is even darker in dark fantasy. The limitations of the real are removed, yes, but also the identification. You may not be able to face the child molester in fiction, but maybe the child-stealing fairy or a child-devouring werewolf (who is not "us", yet is us) is a way to delve into that dark human impulse to steal away or harm or destroy the innocent.

I saw the magic in Harry Potter as a hyperreality, a metaphor of sorts, and not as "here, be a witch" sort of magic. (Since it was innate, humans could not become witches or wizards, be it their desire or not.) Magic as inherent traits, like shyness or thrill-seeking or wimpyness or courage or smarts or agility.

I see vampires as a vehicle to examine exploitation (feeding on humans), sexuality (the built-in idea of the allure of sin/wickedness/darkness to regular folks; conjoining in blood requiring "necking"; etc), power, mortality vs immortality, dark vs light, temptation, shoot, even venereal diseases (which was part of the metaphor that seemed obvious to me when I read Bram Stoker's work during the initial, terrifying progress of AIDS.) How do people change if they lose their soul? What does it mean to live forever, how does that affect you? Who would be tempted to be one, who would not, and who would seek to eradicate vampires or assist them? I think exploring all those elucidate some part of what it is to be a human who wants to live longer than our lives allow, who are revolted at the idea of drinking human blood, but might find that act also sacred and Christian in some way--"This is my blood... shed for often as you drink it."

Have I read STAKED? Nope. Never ever heard of it until today. And I don't know if I would stand with the elders or with Lewis--so it's not like I can take a solid side. However, I can't help but sit and ponder the implications.

I do think that disfellowshipping should be for something significant, something serious--Paul had the young man disfellowshipped for sleeping with his father's wife, which, yeah, I can see that. I find it hard to think that writing a novel about a man sleeping with his stepmom (or mom, for that matter), would merit the same harsh reaction. Ne?

Are you writing something that could get you in ecclesiastical hot water? Do comment.

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