Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Trouble with Speculative Fiction

Like many people, I’m fascinated by the prophecies surrounding the end times of the world. I wonder just how it will all play out, when it will be, and if I’ll be alive when it happens My biggest concern is the amount of actual danger there will be and will my children be old enough to deal with it or will I be facing those dangers with babies in my arms? The scripture says that if you are prepared, you shall not fear, and I believe that, but when you have children, everything changes. Your fear takes on a different dimension because suddenly your greatest priority is someone else, someone who may not understand what is happening around them.

Speculative fiction is selling like it never has before. The closer we come to the Second Coming, the more people want to know about it. Everyone has their theories, of course, and some have expressed those theories in fictional form. They’re quick to explain that they’re in the dark as much as the rest of us are, and are just pulling from the same prophecies we all have plus a healthy dose of imagination. No one knows just when it will happen or how.

The “Left Behind” series takes the Book of Revelation very literally, while other novels take it symbolically. I personally believe that the Book of Revelation is full of symbols that represent things more common to our time. Honestly, if four horsemen were to go galloping across the sky or if we were attacked by a swarm of locusts that looked like women, we’d all sit up and take notice, and yet we are told that most of the inhabitants of the earth will be unaware what is going on. I’m not the authority on that either, but it’s my understanding that John the Revelator was describing what he saw in his own language, and because he was unfamiliar with the inventions of our time, he did the best he could.

Regardless of all this, whether it’s symbolic or literal, whether it happens tomorrow or decades from now, there is one thing that is agreed upon: Christ will return. And that is where speculative fiction falls short of the mark.

Every end times book I’ve read leads up to the Second Coming in a very fascinating way. It’s fun to see how the authors interpret the prophecies and how they choose to fictionalize them. But when Christ appears, the story immediately falls flat. The writing loses its fervor, the words are dull and lifeless. I have not yet read a book describing the appearing of Christ that did it adequately. I don’t think one can be written that can.

Think about it for a minute: The most glorious being, the most perfect, powerful, kind, loving individual, The Son of God. How would you describe Him in any way that would bring Him justice? It can’t be done. You could praise and honor him for thousands of pages of perfect prose, and it still would not be enough. And in His moment of perfect triumph, when He comes to release the entire world from bondage and sin, how could we, as mere people, capture that kind of magnificence? The ultimate crowning capstone of His mission to this earth?

My recommendation to authors who are writing or are contemplating writing an end times book – go for it. But end the story before the actual appearing. Build it up, bring it to a crescendo, and then end it with something like, “The corner of the sky began to lift up” or something equally as indicative of what is to happen next. The reader knows what’s coming; let them savor that in their minds. In this way, the power of your story will remain intact.

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