I enjoy history, especially when I can match up certain events which occurred simultaneously in different places, making for an interesting snapshot of the world at a particular moment in time.
Two events juxtaposed create a different story than either would individually.
Seventy-five years ago this week the classic Disney movie Fantasia debuted in the United States. It was the third Disney movie, preceded by Snow White in 1937 and Pinocchio a bit earlier in 1940.
Story number two also occurred seventy-five years ago this week, as the Nazi’s were locking down the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland.
The Warsaw Ghetto was an area of less than one and a half square miles where 400,000 Jews were herded and sealed in. Most were eventually transported to concentration camps and killed, many others died in the ghetto. A small percentage survived.
The same week, German bombers destroyed the city of Coventry, England, which included a 14th century cathedral near and dear to the hearts of the English. In retaliation, the British launched nighttime bombing raids on military targets near the city of Hamburg, Germany. Within a month, the British would begin to bomb civilian targets in Germany, something they chose to avoid until then.
It was an awful time in world history.
Meanwhile, across the ocean in America, viewers flocked to see Fantasia, listening in amazing and new “Fantasound.” It sold out theaters for months. As a matter of fact, Fantasia played on Broadway in New York for 57 consecutive weeks. (The opening night proceeds were donated to British war relief)
All kinds of art are the deep breath of relief that everyone needs living in the midst of evil, no matter where or when. Sometimes it is best to confront issues head on, but other times it is good to escape from life’s problems. Art provides escape.
As authors develop a personal “brand” in their work, one of the variables each need to decide is whether they write to make readers escape or engage life. The line is usually drawn between fiction (escape) and non-fiction (engage).
Often, Christian writers want to do both, but do better at one than the other. They might write a great story that transports the reader, but the lesson takeaway is veiled and not obvious. Conversely, a great lesson packaged in story form can often come across wooden or preachy.
There are exceptions to this of course, but few and far between. The ability to do both well requires great and rare talent.
ISIS, terrorist attacks, trafficking, drug trade, wars, Ebola, nuclear weapon proliferation, refugees, climate change, violence in the cities, churches closing, genders changing, leaders failing, earthquakes rumbling, fires burning, campus shooting, storms raging.
We certainly need to engage problems to solve them, but you can’t blame people for wanting to escape it all sometimes. For humans, it’s part of our spiritual fabric, knitted together by the Creator, yearning for the day when we escape this world for a much, much better one.
Until then we provide both engagement and escape. It’s called publishing.
This must be why I watch The Walking Dead. It always makes me think: the work=ld is bad.. but not this bad….
I need to go back to Disney. And maybe read fiction. I forget about reading good fiction as an escape… I’m so non-fiction oriented!
Thought provoking post, Dan. I didn’t realize Fantasia came out the same week as the other events you mentioned. I like the perspective you shared too. Sometimes we DO need an opportunity to escape the hard things, for a little while. And, I love the promise of our eternal one-day escape.
May we all write stories that provide engagement and escape, of the best sorts.
Dan, this is an interesting reflection on the proper balance between escapism and engagement. It raises a question for me as a writer of fiction.
The traditional publishing industry seems so risk-averse in both style and content, and slots are so limited in number. What are the odds that a Christian publishing house would seriously consider a novel by an unpublished author, even an extremely well-crafted one, that tells a love story set in dangerous times for Christians, where human love is thoroughly entangled in conflict over what god to serve? Clearly a story for our times, but is that outside what CBA expects its “ideal reader” to want?
Fantasia holds a special place in my heart. During its theater rerelease in 1974, the man I’ve now been married to for 40 years took me to see it as our second date. Gorgeous images of beauty, of humor, and of evil rising and then being overcome with light – the last being an image of hope for a dark time.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
If you ever decide to represent historical fiction, I hope I’ll be one of the first to know. I “get” how you think. One of my undergrad degrees was in “comprehensive social studies education.” I just couldn’t limit myself to one thing when so many thing occur simultaneously and impact each other, so I got certified to teach history, geography, economics, sociology, and government. I have always liked helping others see how the threads tie together, and how God is at work in it all. Historical fiction is what I write NOW, but your post has inspired me to pull out a contemporary fiction I wrote years ago (and never tried to publish) in which the politics in Washington, D.C., an earthquake in Chile, and the election of a new Pope in Vatican City simultaneously impact the protagonist. If I still like it, I’ll be signing up for a 15-minute pitch session with you at another conference! 😉 Thanks for another great, thought-provoking, motivational post!