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Last week I posted an email that I sent to Vox Day which explained why I thought no child under the age of 21 should be allowed to read any part of the Susan Cooper Book “Dark is Rising”. Okay, wait, let me check my notes. . . . no, actually what I said was that a subtly anti-religious this-reality-is-bigger-than-God ideas in one chapter made it so I could never count it as my favorite children’s book.
He responded in his blog this way:
There are two separate issues here. First, the vaguely New Age, multiple paths towards Truth manner in which religion is handled by Susan Cooper and Madeleine L’Engle doesn’t trouble me at all. Neither author is actually attempting to make any serious theological statement, Good and Evil are primarily used as a backdrop, as a means of creating an impression of a larger stage upon which the novels are played out.One must keep in mind that both women are of a previous generation that was not entirely secularized, thus their work is essentially atheistic at heart but they are too steeped in the Christian culture of the West to abandon it entirely. This is part of the source of their power, of course, most fully atheist works of modern fantasy tend to be weak and absolutely forgettable since they don’t draw effectively on what can either be considered the Real or the Mythic depending upon one’s perspective.
Indeed, I suspect that the lasting greatness of both “The Dark is Rising” and “A Wrinkle in Time” (I must say that I vastly prefer “A Swiftly Tilting Planet”, by the way), is somewhat dependent upon their lack of specifics, not only with regards to religion but also history. Rather than explaining precisely how everything works, both writers have the skill to paint with impressions, which somehow leaves the reader with a picture that is more meaningful than one laid out with more precision in the particulars. I expect JK Rowlings will be largely forgotten in 30 years, while Cooper and L’Engle are still being read.
As for your second point, it should be kept in mind that these are not children’s books. They are for teenagers and precocious pre-teens, they are for those who are sufficiently developed to deal with partial truths and understand how they can be useful in understanding the fullness of the Truth. I suspect you don’t fully understand that a writer’s basic objective in writing a work of fiction seldom involves the idea of presenting an argument to the reader, barring the obvious examples to the contrary such as Messrs. Jenkins and LaHaye or Sherri Tepper.
I don’t see my books as attempting to tell anyone anything, I see them more as posing questions and offering potential answers to those questions. In the first book, the question is “why don’t we choose evil when it seems to offer us so much more of what we want?” In the second, “how is it that an angry, bitter boy is pushed over the edge to become a killer when so many others aren’t?” In the third, “is it possible that God not only plays dice with the Devil, but does so with loaded dice?”
Given that my skill is much inferior to both the aforementioned ladies, this may not always come through to the reader. Mere brainpower is a poor substitute for true artistic talent. At any rate, don’t forget that novels are entertainment, and while they may be sopratutto a thinking woman’s entertainment and occasionally provoke a thought or three on the part of the reader, it would be a mistake to place too much theological weight on them.
To which I responded in this way:
- On whether or not this is a children’s book: Last Christmas Eve you wrote in your blog regarding Dark : “And in that book, which is as near to perfect as a children’s book can be . . . ” And I specifically asked how it compared to Hobbit and you said that if they could handle Hobbit, they could handle Dark. I must say that my kids had more difficulty following Dark, but I suppose that’s a different complaint than the religious one. (I could write a two page analysis here. I’ll spare you) Suffice to say, it was harder to follow than Narnia, Hobbit, (or now) Sawyer.
- On your comment: “I suspect you don’t fully understand that a writer’s basic objective in writing a work of fiction seldom involves the idea of presenting an argument to the reader” Two things: (1) I don’t think I ever indicated disdain for the line of reasoning or the argument’s presentation, only the result of presentation. In any case (2) having done some story writing in the past, I do have some understanding of this. But it doesn’t matter what the ‘objective’ is – I still find the written words to be (in Cooper’s case, in that chapter) silly and patronizing.
- On your comment “I don’t see my books as attempting to tell anyone anything, I see them more as posing questions and offering potential answers to those questions . . . In the second, “how is it that an angry, bitter boy is pushed over the edge to become a killer when so many others aren’t?”: I don’t have a problem with this, but you didn’t just offer an answer in the second book, you made your opinion of the answer clear: Demons. Indeed, you did more so than Cooper, because your book revolves what you think actually happens, whereas I’m pretty sure that Cooper doesn’t believe in “Old Ones”
<My thought is that the word ‘Indeed’ in the last sentence sounds pretentious, but it was the best way for me to get my thought across, so I’m going for it>
Good (or excellent) authors (e.g. Lewis) presenting worldview messages in their novels is an occurrence that happens more than you admit.
In any case, it seems like that might be a pretty good way to get out of an argument when you have caused offense -
“As a Calvinist, yes, I think that God causes all wars”
“Oh, sorry, I was just offering a potential answer”
But the question is – do I have a right to not like a book (or a chapter) based on the offered answer? You say no, because it still might be great literature, but I think I do.