Dystopia, Part Three

Part One.

Part Two.

What’s the problem with a glut of grim, futurist fiction on the YA bookshelves?

Maybe nothing. Youth is resilient, and most young people are smart enough to know that fiction is fiction. If their reading is balanced, and they get out in the fresh air often enough, no harm done. Too much of anything has its effect, though, whether good or bad. A teen whose homelife is rather dystopian probably doesn’t need any more depressing stories. What better way to reinforce the view that life holds little good for him? A steady diet of grim fiction could help to convince a young person that death, struggle, strife, and dissatisfaction are “reality,” while happy families, lasting marriages, and easily-solvable problems are the stuff of old sitcoms. Remember Screwtape advising his nephew to convince his human that war and destruction are “real,” while children playing on a green hillside is cheap sentimentality.

There’s also a theological “problem” with post-apocalyptic scenarios. All’s fair in fiction, to a point, but could there really be life after the apocalypse? When Jesus returns, isn’t that the end? Yes, I realize that Christians disagree as to exactly what happens when, but if Jesus’ death and resurrection is the turning point of history, his return would seem to close the door. I have had a couple of ideas for dystopian novels myself, and even wrote most of one, but this gives me pause. Though fiction is not factual, it must be true, and I can’t–at this point, anyway–justify conjecturing a future where civilization is destroyed but the Lord still tarries.

Going back to C. S. Lewis, he solved the problem this way. That Hideous Strength, the third in his “space trilogy,” is a pre-apocalyptic dystopian novel, if there is such a thing. The action takes place shortly after World War II, when the British government has been taken over by visionaries, utopians, and outright blackguards who are actually negotiating with supernatural forces in their quest for power. Catastrophe comes perilously near, but averted in the nick of time by a small resistance group with God on their side. That Hideous Strength is a bit didactic and wordy–Lewis wrote elsewhere that his editor was always trying to tame his “expository demon”–and may be hard for teens to get into. I didn’t appreciate it until I was older, in my late twenties. But its well worth reading–and actually is “eerily relevant” to modern-day events! I may write more on it later. In the meantime, don’t take any wooden dystopias.

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2 Responses to Dystopia, Part Three

  1. Janie November 7, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

    You’re very welcome, Heather–thank you for taking the time to post, and I hope you’ll come back often.

  2. Heather Stevens November 7, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

    Thank you for taking the time to read, analyze and explain this trend in YA. A better understanding of the philosophy behind dystopian literature allows me to open conversations with my children rather than looking distrustfully at the book jacket. At some point, they grow out of LIttle House and Anne of Green Gables. I deeply appreciate Christian authors who are unafraid of wading into the culture to help us connect with what our teens are reading.

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