Simone Weil was being quite profound when she commented:
“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”
I can see the truth in those words in just about every book, TV program or movie. Anywhere a story is told, fictional villains or real heroes are the most interesting characters.
Consider the opposite…real villains are not compelling or interesting. There is no exciting musical soundtrack that accompanies their story. They are depressing to know. The same would be for the “goody two-shoes” hero in a fictional tale. But make the hero significantly flawed and it might just work.
I suppose I could be argued off this opinion, but I think the real vs. fiction comparison made by Simone Weil had its roots in the development of photography and motion pictures (Simone lived in the early 20th century). The broad use of the earliest still-picture cameras coincided with the American Civil War in the 1860’s. Pioneer photographers like Mathew Brady captured images that were the beginnings of modern photojournalism (one of his photos leads today’s post).
Because of the long exposure times required by early cameras, still photos were either of people posing, landscapes or anything that stayed in one place for a long time. Those were nice if you wanted to see what clothes people wore or what a house looked like back then, but it was other photos that changed perspectives in the world, or at least the way we viewed it.
Bodies of fallen soldiers were easily photographed and so post-battle scenes of carnage became frequent subjects of early photos from the American Civil War. For the first time in history, war became real to more than just the soldiers who participated. No glory, no flag-waving, no band playing…just ugly death.
Even though there is no musical track punctuating the lives of real heroes, their acts of kindness, service, love, forgiveness and courage carry their own drama. It is in the non-fiction works where these people live and if you have a dry eye at the end of the story, you need to check to see if you have a pulse.
What story moved you lately?
Terrance Leon Austin
Very good post. In my experience as a movie buff/critic, The ongoing attempts for directors to make a great action movie by creating a hero who wipes out the villain without ever taking a single hit is boring. But casting a very bad villain throughout the movie made for a better hero in the end. A great fiction story (To me) will always have the tragedy stand out a bit more than the triumph. Some readers want the full story (blood, sweat, and tears). While others just want the (happy in the beginning) followed by the happily ever after. In our society, that could very well be classified as a fantasy or delusion. A great story will have the reader at least pushing sobs away or wondering will it be a sequel.
Your point is well made. I think it was G.K. Chesterton in “Orthodoxy” who said that the problem with modern fiction is that it takes an unbelievable, extraordinary man and puts him in an ordinary circumstances. Chesterton writes that this type of fiction will not stand the test of time. Instead, fiction that lasts, takes an ordinary man and places him in an extraordinary circumstance. I am paraphrasing but that was the gist of it.
Tis a slippery slope however. In my opinion much modern fiction (including some Christian) works too hard at showing the flaws of the hero such that virtue is lost. I just finished a manuscript where I was very cognizant that I did NOT want to do that. I don’t want the lines between good and evil too blurry in my work. We have plenty of that from the general market.
Nancy B. Kennedy
My “Miracles and Moments of Grace” series is a collection of inspiring stories, and I’m working on the fourth book in the series, Inspiring Stories of Survival. All fifty of the stories in the book fill me with awe — the human spirit can be indomitable and the mercy of God boundless — but one story that has really gripped me came from a pastor who went to almost superhuman lengths to save two elderly neighbors in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He could have left with his family, but he stayed for the sake of his neighbors. No greater love!
I see this a bit differently. Evil fascinates us and it doesn’t seem so boring as repellant and disturbing to the soul. The ordinary hero is made of clay and must find the strength to face evil, rather than run away to safety. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit in a life that honors Christ. That is true whether it’s a character standing up against bullying, a cheating spouse, a murderous system or goblins. I’m just starting out, writing YA fantasy & science fiction, hoping to reach hearts for Christ where dystopia currently reigns.
Chris, your comment really resonated with me. I find myself repulsed when a hero is too flawed, wanting to believe in him & his virtue but finding that if his faults are too obvious & upsetting to me personally, I have no interest in reading any further. I can LIVE that in real life! I don’t want a fairy tale by any means but I want to be able to root for the hero & believe that he is worth saving! Flaws are one thing but anti-Christian values are quite another, except as the story line dictates when presenting a reason for the hero’s salvation, say. Even then, keep them minimal & imply most; then show the dramatic difference with his salvation. But don’t spend the entire book steeped in his flaws & have him come to Christ in the last moment when he has had few, if any, redeeming values up to that point. As a reader, I won’t get that far!
I cried when Katniss Everdeen took her sister’s place as tribute. I cried as a mom and as a sister. That scene hit me hard.
Dan, that’s a thought-provoking quote from Simone Weil. Thank you for for giving me something to contemplate.
Only today you can buy Coldwater Revival by Nancy Jo Jenkins on Kindle or Nook for nothing. It’s FREE!
It’s a great book you don’t want to miss. I read it a few years ago, and it stayed with me until today. Characters were believable.
Now, I’m going to read My Story by Elizabeth Smart.