Some time ago, I wrote that stories “peel back the world and show us what lies beneath,” that they teach us about good and evil. I also promised to write about the qualities of a Good Story. So here goes:
If stories teach us about the nature of good and evil, then the best stories are those that do so truthfully.
Which is why I don’t like Twilight. Full disclosure: I’ve neither read the books nor seen the movies. And I don’t intend to. I dislike them on principle because I don’t think they peel back the world and tell us the truth about what lies beneath.
Some of you, I’m sure, think Twilight doesn’t peel back the world at all, that it doesn’t make any claims about truth or good and evil, that it doesn’t propose a worldview. But every story makes these claims. When it comes to worldview, there are no neutral stories; every story either reinforces the truth or denies it. The question, then, isn’t whether a story makes a claim about the world, but whether the claim made by a story (any story, every story) is more true than not. A story is good when it is true.
“Our truest stories tell us who we are and where we should be going,” Michael D. O’Brien wrote in A Landscape with Dragons. “They inform us about the nature of the enemy. They strengthen us for the journey.”
In these stories—the ones that tell us who we are and where we should be going—dragons and monsters and, yes, vampires are not creatures that need to be dismissed or excused or understood. They are evils that need to be confronted and defeated. O’Brien again: “Evils that appear good are far more destructive in the long run than those that appear with horns, fangs, and drooling green saliva.”
That’s my biggest problem with today’s monsters: they appear good. These stories peel back the world and tell us pleasing lies. One more time from O’Brien: “At least in the old days, dragons looked and acted like dragons. This, I think, not only reflects truth in a deep spiritual sense, it is also a lot more interesting. A landscape with dragons is seldom boring.”
As Christians, we simply don’t have the luxury of believing in a world in which evil doesn’t exist. Just as our God is personal, knowable and real, so too is evil personal, knowable and real. Russell Moore put it best when he said, “What you deeply fear is indeed the case… [W]orrying about the monster under the bed isn’t unreasonable; there’s a monster under the fabric of the cosmos.” The monster is real, and we do a disservice to our children when we tell them it doesn’t exist or, worse, that it exists but can be tamed.
The stories I want to tell Jack—the stories that I want to shape his imagination— are the stories in which dragons look and act like dragons, in which the monster under the bed (and beneath the fabric of the cosmos) is real. In Twilight—and in so many other stories we tell our kids today—the dragons look very much like the sheep in the neighbor’s field. But when Jack faces evil in his own life, I want him to know how to respond.
Bella doesn’t put a stake through Edward’s heart as she should. And I say should because (as everyone knows) if you don’t kill the vampire, the vampire will kill you. This is the nature of evil. In the real world, when a young person encounters evil (and make no mistake: every young person will) there is one proper response: resistance and, one way or another, death. Not empathy. The minute you begin to empathize with evil is the minute it slips its tightening noose around your neck.
“Fairy tales and folk tales are for children and childlike people,” writes Anthony Esolen, “not because they are little and inconsequential, but because they are as enormous as life itself.”
Jack’s stories are as enormous as his life, or larger. And one day, if I tell him the right stories, they just might save it.