One of my favorite scenes from
the animated Disney classic Peter Pan is when Wendy
awakes to see a boy chasing his shadow inside her bedroom. How exactly
Peter became separated from his shadow is never revealed, only that
Peter had somehow left it behind on a previous visit. Peter’s shadow
proves to be quite a slippery customer in a knockdown, drag-out fight;
but in the end, Peter subdues his shadow. With Wendy’s help, his shadow
is properly sewn back on. The adventure goes on from there.
In the real world, shadows
cannot act independently from the object they duplicate. However, in
the world of fiction, shadows can, and sometimes do, get a mind of
their own. This was exactly the case in a recent episode of a popular
television show. In the show, while one of the character’s slept, his
shadow started going off on its own for the sake of taking revenge on
I must admit that at first I
thought this was an interesting concept, and I was eager to see how the
episode unfolded. Unfortunately, my interest was rather short-lived. It
was one thing to suggest that strong light, such as the strobe from a
camera flash, could cause the shadow pain. It was a whole other thing
when they discovered that the shadow could not exist in the darkness.
All they had to do was to turn out the lights, and poof, no more
monster. Way too easy! Where’s the fun in that?
The contrast between shadow and
So what does all this have to do
with writing life-transforming fiction? Simple. Nowhere is the
relationship between darkness and light more crucial than it is in
inspirational fiction. After all, redemption is the very core of what
we write. Minus the darkness, there is no need for redemption. God’s
love for us shines even more brightly when set in contrast to all He
has brought us through. The same is true of the stories we write.
But it strikes me that within
the Christian writing community, the shadows have taken on a life of
their own. For many years I have watched a growing debate as to what
are the proper standards for presenting dark subject matter within
Christian novels. In the past, this was dealt with by the individual
publishing houses. Each publisher had a list of standards they expected
their authors to honor, or they would not be published.
If I say,
“Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around
me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine
like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Ps. 139:11–12 NIV)
Much has changed within the
Christian fiction publishing community. Several of the old,
well-established Christian publishers have either disappeared or been
purchased by other, and sometimes secular, publishing companies. Many
new and often smaller publishing houses have emerged and seem to be
doing quite well. The result is a much changed publishing landscape,
where the rules seem to be in flux.
Edgy Christian fiction, or a
The popular catch phrase “edgy
Christian fiction” is often used to describe this growing direction
within Christian fiction. The primary aim of this edgier brand of
fiction is to provide a more realistic story. The author has greater
freedom to create more true-to-life characters who are sometimes deeply
flawed, or perhaps to write about dark subject matter in greater
Are these changes good, or bad?
Some complain that the line between Christian and secular novels is
going to vanish completely. They worry that overly graphic scenes could
potentially result in causing a reader to stumble into committing the
same kinds of sin they are reading about.
How far is too far when it comes
to Christian inspirational fiction? It can only be answered on a case
by case basis. It all comes down to a matter of a writer’s individual
conscience before God. And fortunately, even in today’s Wild West
environment of changing standards, there remains the tried and true
safety that results from each new set of eyes that view the project at
the various levels of the publishing process.
Will some well-known Christian
author slip up and push the edginess too far, only to have it blow back
into his or her face? It’s bound to happen someday. But until that day
comes, I doubt we can settle the debate on this subject today, or at
any time in the near future. In the meantime, my hope is that we all
remember to keep the discussion honest and respectful. And if your
shadow tears free and makes a break for the exit and you find yourself
without a proper sewing kit, just turn off the lights.