The Conflict Between Good and Evil in Fantasy

Christian Fantasy

During last week’s blog tour, Janeen Ippolito commented on blurry lines between good and evil in the featured book, and Becky Miller added her perspective that the good and evil have yet to be defined–and may turn out in a surprising fashion. As a result, I began to consider the depiction of this conflict in fantasy. For countless years, the battle between good and evil has been a staple of the fantasy genre, and often this conflict occurs on an epic scale.

Yet I’ve noticed a shift in the perspectives of readers and writers on this subject, a trend toward celebrating the shades of grey to such a point that notions of good and evil vanish. Such books may vaguely acknowledge some good and some evil in the world, but blur the lines between them past recognition. Protagonists and antagonists have little to differentiate between their behavior, neither one operating in a particularly ethical manner, and behavior dictated by “every man [doing] that which was right in his own eyes.”

As Christian writers, we should approach this conflict differently than those holding to other worldviews. We know good and evil exist. While recognizing that all people are flawed, we also know there is a right and wrong way of living, and a choice each individual makes to align with good or evil. Does this mean we need tales with squeaky clean heroes and dastardly villains? Of course not.

Sometimes the sides of good and evil may be evident from the beginning, while in other tales the delineation between good and evil may seem evident, but we later find that things are not as they appear. Or it may be difficult to discern between good and evil, requiring the unfolding of a story to reveal the truth of the matter.

I don’t mind waiting for a revelation of where the battle lines fall, seeing heroes stumble and sin, finding the good in a villain, or sorting through characters who seem ambiguous and whose motives may be good or evil or simply self-serving. After all, in life, we confront this. We know good and evil exist, but there are also areas that don’t seem clear…and we don’t always properly discern between them. As we’re conformed more in the image of Christ, we come to view things more rightly, as he sees them–but it’s a process of growth for us and for the characters we create.

So our stories don’t have to follow any one pattern, yet we need to be mindful that if we blur the lines between good and evil too far, in a way that suggests there is no moral code or standard, our fiction hardly aligns with Biblical truth.

Your thoughts?

Comments

  • Mirriam
    February 28, 2012 - 8:26 am · Reply

    Yes! I heartly agree and applaud!
    The lack of contrast between good and evil in modern fiction has become increasingly disgusting to me. Demons are made the heroes, the good men are made to appear as the enemy. I think that one of the responsibilities of a Christian writer is to show evil for what it truly is – as well as show GOOD for what it truly is! Granted; my heroes/heroines aren’t perfect. Not by a long shot. But they are striving to be good, and to fight against evil; which is what we should all be doing, in reality.
    Great post, Sarah!!!

    • Sarah Sawyer
      March 2, 2012 - 1:15 pm · Reply

      Thank you, Mirriam! I always enjoy hearing your perspective, so I’m glad you’ve chimed in. 🙂

      The degree to which the reversal of good and evil has taken place in fiction disturbs me also, particularly the trend which you’ve pointed out of making demons into protagonists and desirable romantic partners. It’s astounding.

      So it’s all the more important that we communicate truth about good and evil in our stories, and do it in a compelling, engaging fashion. Because story deeply impacts peoples’ lives, I would agree that we actually have a responsibility to this.

  • Jennifer Hallmark
    February 28, 2012 - 8:31 am · Reply

    Good thought, Sarah. I agree 100%. A movie or book full of unresolved gray areas leaves me disappointed. Our characters need boundaries, ones our “good” guys won’t cross. Our “bad” guys need either no boundaries or unstable, changing boundaries.
    I’ll reference the classic “Star Wars” series. One good guy, Luke, had set boundaries. He wouldn’t give in to the dark side or kill his father. Though he stumbled at times, he tried to stay within his boundaries. Our bad guy, Darth, had no boundaries at the beginning. I mean, he killed kids. But by the end, he couldn’t kill his son and that led to his redemption.
    I like clearly defined, at some point, good and evil…

    • Sarah Sawyer
      March 2, 2012 - 1:19 pm · Reply

      Jennifer, it’s great to hear from you! That’s a good point about boundaries helping to differentiate between heroes and villains. If someone is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish their goals (with the idea that the ends justify the means), it usually leads them astray.

      I think most readers want someone they can root for in the end, rather than a cast of purely ambiguous characters. 🙂

  • Maria Tatham
    February 28, 2012 - 3:57 pm · Reply

    Sarah, we can’t escape truth and reality, even in fiction, the truth and reality that good and evil exist and are opposed. Goodness is just part of the real world, inseparable from it, because its Creator is good. So, yes, I agree that goodness/badness should be made clear in Christian fiction. Skillful Christian writers should want to make readers blush or cheer. And they can do this better than others, if they’re faithful, because truth is on their side.
    Thanks for talking about this!

    • Sarah Sawyer
      March 2, 2012 - 1:21 pm · Reply

      Great thoughts, Maria! Fiction reflects reality, and it resonates more deeply with us as it reflects that which is true.

      As we know Truth, our ability to weave it into our stories increases. That’s something unique we have to offer as Christians, and it’s quite needed in culture today. I’m thankful that you and other writers have this vision!

      • Maria Tatham
        March 2, 2012 - 8:38 pm · Reply

        We must maintain this vision, Sarah. And it’s going to cost us. Keep going within your sphere of influence — He’ll lead you!

        It’s getting very dark in the world when people say that there isn’t even ‘Truth’ to be found, and that good and bad are relative, or merely ploys for power. However, the path of the just will shine more and more unnto the perfect day. And others will join us along this narrow way…

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