August 20, 2013

The Glorification of Death

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With the first round of edits complete and the novel sent out to readers, I've moved on to the process of query-writing.  Not that any queries will actually be going out for some time yet, but it seemed like a good idea to buckle down and begin the work.  I think the current version is #3.  Getting there, getting there...

The process of researching and noting agencies is, as always, enjoyably frustrating: enjoyable because hey, books! and people to query! and frustrating because there are just so many pages to trawl through.  I am, however, beginning to memorize the agents of such bestselling novelists as Suzanne Collins, Cassandra Clare, Scott Westerfeld, and Stephenie Meyer.  And then there are the ones whose works are represented by more than one agency, and that just gets confusing.

Poking through lists of recent fantasy novels, I've also begun to notice trends.  One is that most of these books get some pretty awesome covers, and could I have a cover like that?  Why, yes, thank you, I will take the cover of Wither!  The second, though, is that dark seems to be incredibly in at the moment.  Everywhere I turn I see yet another book about the undead; about vampire-slaying; about the end of the world; about romance between a human and a devil or an angel and a devil or a SOMETHING and a devil.  Vampires are going out of vogue (Twilight is so 2005) and dystopian is in, but even in young adult novels technically labelled "fantasy," horror seems to be the overriding element. 

This is not to say that all of these are badly written.  I'm sure some of them are; I suppose some of them may very well not be.  Nor do I have what you would call an iron stomach, so perhaps I'm not qualified to judge the creepiness level of any book.  However, seeing all these books lined up in virtual rows and reading all these queries of books that sold has made me wonder where exactly the obsession with death came from.  Death is something alien to the way things ought to be and there is, or used to be, a healthy dread of it.  Now it seems to be embraced. 

I don't believe Christians ought to shy away from addressing the hard, dirty problems of the world: on the contrary, I think the attitude of treading on eggshells that believing writers adopt is part of the reason our literature is so terribly insipid.  Death is a hard, dirty problem that must be faced.  What I wonder in looking over recent publications is whether they are no longer treating it as a problem, or whether the authors are attempting to confront the problem and failing.  And I wonder, too, whether readers are not being inoculated to the issue by the prevalence of horror and skewed spiritual ideas.  If the trend continues, will it not become harder and harder to battle a problem that readers no longer imagine to be a problem?

What think you?

14 comments:

  1. I have to say I've noticed the fascination with death and it has puzzled me, as you say. For some authors I do think they try to address it and then realize it's a fact, and fail. For others, they don't believe in life after death, and that's where death, to them, becomes the goal of life. If there is nothing after death, then life is but a highroad to that culminating event, and if you hold that worldview, than why *not* glorify it? Or so I assume many of these authors are thinking. Actually, it's a rather interesting study to see how these authors who don't believe in life-after-death are constantly writing plots about cheating death of what was coming to it. In reality they can't bear the thought of there *not* being anything after, so they create zombies or other creatures who Just Won't Die....very interesting - thanks for pointing out this peculiar trend!

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    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who has noticed it: staring at author websites and recent novels excessively tends to skew a person's brain a bit. I don't have an answer to the phenomenon, except the obvious one: that it flows out of a post-modern worldview. Death is the great question mark of reality that everyone is trying either to avoid or to answer in a palatable way - or, barring that, to simply accept at face-value. But as you pointed out, there's something in the heart of man that refuses to do it.

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  2. This reminds me of something Tennyson said - "I am half-sick of shadows." I agree with you - I think death is something we should have a healthy respect for, not become entangled in through fascination. Certainly, it's a door to the afterlife, but I can't help but wonder whether or not the culture's fascination with darkness and death is at least partially responsible for the rise in depression and suicide. EXCELLENT post.

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    1. ...Which appears to be a murder mystery, as well. Half sick of shadows, that is.

      The subject of "clean versus unclean" and its purpose in the Law came up during a sermon a few Sundays ago, how any contact with a corpse rendered you unclean. Death is meant to be recognized as unnatural - meant to be abhorred - even now that Christ has conquered it. If you recognize its awfulness without knowing its answer, you are led to depression and suicide. If you try to accept it as a natural and good aspect of the universe, you slide into perversion - and, I think, end up at depression again.

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  3. I've been wondering the same thing for the past month or so; though I'm sure I never said it aloud as evenly as you put it here. It seems like the books that aren't about a vampire or a zombie or another haunt chart the life of suicidal teenagers, and/or reckless love. (The two go hand in hand, I'm thinking...) Not to mention the whole "YOLO" mindset that every teenager seems to think logical...
    You've already covered most everything I've been thinking - just wanted to put a nice visible thumbs up here because I do agree, and because giving people encouragement when I like what they've said will always be a habit of mine. ;)

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    1. I admit, I had to go ask Jenny what YOLO stood for. I think I'm a bad teenager.

      Thank you for the thumbs-up! I like thumbs-up-s. I felt like this post was all over the place and I was unable to offer any sound, conclusive ending, but as it had come up in my research, I thought I'd throw it out there for other writers to chew on. I'm glad it clicked with you! ^.^

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  4. I think that our culture's fascination with death is because of the verse that says "They that hate Me, love death" (or something like that ... and I don't remember where it's found.) They have turned their back on God, the Giver of Life, and thus their only option is death.

    I'm not saying the subject is one to stay away from, because personally, one of my favorite of C.S. Lewis's books is The Great Divorce, but we must keep in mind what death is. A one-way trip to either eternity in the presence of the Lord or else eternal punishment.

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    1. I think, though, that in general the language of Proverbs 8 is metaphorical: those who hate wisdom (which leads to life) must necessarily but subconsciously love foolishness, which leads to death. That this should evolve into a conscious fixation with Death itself is perhaps natural, but also disturbing. But I agree with you: if you turn your back on God, you're left with no worthwhile answer to those hard, dirty problems.

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  5. Thank you, Rachel! I've been volunteering at a libaray recently, and the amount of seductive, death-saturated books on the YA shelves is extremely discouraging. Even more discouraging is the amount of unattended (or attended) little kids who wander through there and pull down a book WAY over their heads. Thank you for this post, I agree with it completely!

    While death and gross things should be something a Christian has the courage to face, that means defeating it by not letting it scare you away from sharing Christ. It does NOT mean stuffing our faces with it. Christ reminds us to think on pure and lovely things. While death is indeed an issue to be faced in a novel, it should be a problem to be faced.

    Let us try to write novels that spread light and life into a dark and hopeless world! :)

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    1. Oh, I hate seeing children reading books like that: it's the only thing worse than hearing a child say they hate reading. I just want to snatch the book out of their hands and give their parents a good sound thwack over the head.

      ...Which is perhaps why I shouldn't work at a library or bookstore. Ever.

      On a more irenic note, Mirriam wrote a good post on this over at her blog Wishful Thinking. You may have read it already, but your comment reminded me of it.

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  6. This is such an interesting topic. I agree that this subject is far to commonly either avoided or abused. I love your blog, by the way!
    www.radiant-joy.blogspot.com

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    1. Aw, thank you! I think Bree Holloway's design is primarily responsible for that, but I'm very glad you enjoy the blog. Nice to "meet" you, by the by!

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  7. Since I have recently dealt with death in my family (my grandfather died), I feel like I could write a whole story or poem on it. We weren't sure if he was a Christian when he died, so that's why we cried so hard. But God sent us someone who told us he had gone to heaven and was dancing (he loved to dance, though it was harder for him to since he was older). And then we cried for joy.

    But yeah, about a year or 2 ago when I was looking at the shelves of Borders (it was closing down and everything was on sale), I noticed how so many of them had such dark covers! People are beginning to "like" darkness because it's serious and the story understands their depression, or reflects it in a fantasy. At least, that's an idea of why.

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  8. I think you've touched upon something really going on in the literary sphere that has bothered me, Abigail. It's not like the topic of 'death' should be avoided, but this fascination with darkness and death in the popular literary world has repelled me and made me wonder what's going on. It is very true, about how the world's worldview of death has affected how authors 'deal' with the issue.

    I think having a firm foundation of the Scripture, and the meaning of death as through the Fall, and what Christ did, His death, and then His glorious triumph from the grave is the only hope we have in dealing with this in our writing and impacting the thought of readers regarding the dark-sadness of death.

    Ha, and I did think dystopian was the new genre fad - but for the life of me, I just haven't found to pique my interest!

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meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
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Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
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Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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