Thursday, October 25, 2007

Violence in Christian Fiction - Day 1

Judges 3:20-23
Ehud then approached [the Moabite king] while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his summer palace and said, "I have a message from God for you." As the king rose from his seat, Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king's belly. Even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it. Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.

Yesterday I did a review of the book Illuminated. The book is a suspence/thriller story. These stories should be intense, with palpable danger for the protaganist and those he cares about. However, there were a few scenes in the book that seemed to push the envelope a little in regards to violence. A significant scene had a bad guy torturing another rival bad guy, discussing the difficulty in cutting up the legs (while the rival was still alive). The torture guy had a necklace of eyeteeth from his victims, and cut the bodies up to destroy the evidence with acid. Another plot point dealt with a security system accessed with hand prints and retinal scans - and the subsequent loss of said body parts by a character so the bad guys could enter the vault.

This is not a new discussion, as there were some posts regarding this issue last September that I referenced in my own blog. Reading Illuminated brought this to my mind again, and my pondering inspired me to post some more on violence.

Today's an introduction, and the day for disclaimers. First of all, I respect the author, Matt Bronleewe, and I am not trying to disparage him. I must point out that he does not go into gratuitous detail into the above circumstances. I know of several reviewers that really enjoyed his book and didn't comment on any potential excessive violence or gore.

Confession: I watch violent movies sometimes. I enjoyed Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan and Gladiator, among others. I've read other Christian fiction books with violence in them. I'll probably use them as examples down the road. I am attempting to write a novel, and there is some violence in my plotline.

I've posted previously in a discussion of art and Christianity about the need for artistic freedom, that the author/director/musician should be able to pursue their artistic vision. (See this link to bring up all of the pertinent discussions). Does this make me a hypocrite now, in critiquing this book? Well, I don't think so - I don't believe I said anything about not having art exempt from critique and discussion. I'm also not condemning this book, just using the example as a jumping off point for dialogue. As a side point, I think it is fine for reviewers to point out potential stumbling blocks so readers/viewers know what they're getting into with their money and time.

Having said all this, the question I want to ask is: Is there a point of too much violence in a Christian novel, and if so where should the line be drawn? I'd really like to hear from people and entertain some thoughtful wrangling of this subject.

Tune in tomorrow for the next thought.


  1. I don't know that I see a stopping point...other than at gratuitious violence.

    I think in our multimedia days, we've justed learned to be more descriptive.

    The Bible itself is loaded with gore.

    You have the man in Judges 19:22-30, who cuts up his raped wife and distributes her parts to various towns.

    You have Jezebel in 2Kings 9:30-37, who is torn apart and eaten by dogs.

    Then we're on to Judges 5:20-27 where girlfriend pins the dude's head to the ground with a tent peg thru the head.

    And those are just to name a few!

    I think today books lean more towards creating that movie experience with reading, ergo more description to create the picture in your head that rivals some of the movies you've seen.

    I write action/adventure thrillers, and I strive to give you the experience in minute detail.

    LOL...Bob Liparulo's, Comes A Horseman probably would have given you an apoplectic seizure! :-)

  2. It's one of those topics where the answer will ultimately come down to a case-by-case basis. Like I said before, what's the context? Is it gratuitous? Is the author lingering on it for shock purposes, or is it described in an understated way?

    Man's history is full of violence, and certain subject matter would require violence in the story, I think. If it starts to get unnecessary or glorified, that's when you've crossed the line...the trick is finding that line.

  3. Hi Mark,

    I didn't feel that it was gratuitous. It played into the psyche of the killer, showing his lack of morality quite clearly as being in diametric opposition to the real feelings had had strted to feel for the boy.

  4. Bonnie and Mark made excellent points, both from two people who enjoy reading and writing from the action/adventure/thriller perspective.

    And perhaps perspective is the determiner. The reader is responsible for being aware of the kind of book, film, TV program they choose to see. If you watch CSI, for example, you know you're going to see gore and serial evil. So if that repulses you, certainly don't watch it.

    What are we looking at it here? Labeling Christian novels with PG13 or R ratings? Shouldn't be necessary. If a book is a "thriller" or even a mystery or suspense novel, chances are the reader is going to be encountering violence of some kind. And there are so many resources for book buying/reviews/information even within the Christian bookstore via the employees, a lot of whom have read the various novels, to determine the "attractiveness" of a particular book for a particular reader.

    Each author must answer to the Lord for his material and story, not just sensitive readers. Some people should simply not read some books. There's no question about that.

  5. That is a great point Nicole. You have good insight!

  6. I can't say that I can argue with any of your points in a hardcore way. Yet there are some nuances I hope to uncover over the next couple of days.

    Bonnie - you're getting ahead of me with those Bible references! LOL! The violence in the Bible is a definite point to consider. I didn't read Comes a Horseman, although I know about the initial scene in the kitchen. I don't think I'd be apoplectic - I'm definitely not saying any violence is bad. I was stirred to discuss the topic off of reading Illuminated.

    Mark - I think your distinctions listed will be very valuable in the coming discussion. So quit getting ahead of me! :P

    Nicole - True. If you're going to read suspense/thriller, then you should be ready for some violence or danger. I admitted as much. With Illuminated, I was excited to read it because I enjoy a good suspense - my favorite actually. However, the book doesn't really give a clue to some of the content from the cover or the first couple of chapters.

    Robert Liparulo's new book Deadfall? No question it is going to have some serious stuff going down, from the cover and back copy. It's just not easy seeing what a book will be about from a quick scan online or at the store.

  7. Alright, Jason. Let's step up the accountability factor. A word/warning from the author in either a foreword or from the publisher on backcover copy indicating the squeamish or whoever need not read. An author would be willing, but I wonder if a publisher would.

  8. ROFLOL...if me and Mark are getting ahead of the conversation...LOL...catch up!

    LOL...the first scene of Comes was actually in Israel...but it was as gory as the kitchen scene in most respects! *snort*

    You can never depend on a cover to depict the content. Now with movies, they try to show you the "high" points to get you to watch. But books don't do that!

    I think if it catagorized as a thriller...there is going to be some kind of 'real world' happening going on!

  9. Unfortunately Nicole, I am positive the Publishers wouldn't go for that...LOL...positive!

  10. Some readers cannot tolerate any but the miminalist level of violence. Others can take more.

    I want the violence to have something actually to do with the theme/characterization. I don't want violence thrown in just cause, "Oh, the books was getting slow, so let me shoot someone in the face."

    People are violent. A quick look at any history of humankind, Biblical or secular, or any morning paper clears doubts about that fast. And the nice people who live around you will become violent given the right circumstances. As long as we can be well fed, housed, etc, we can fool ourselves that we're non-violent. But have someone come up and put a knife to your kid's throat, and I most so-called pacifists are gonna start looking for a gun or rock or whatever.

    And if there's only one loaf of bread left to eat in the city, people will kill to make sure they are the ones who get to feed their own bellies or their kids' bellies. Even nice grandmas will find a way to rip their way to that loaf of bread.

    So, fiction, which distills the human experience, whether it's joyful or horrific, has room for the most violent and offensive of human behavior. How does one write about, say, inner city life, a war zone, the Holocaust, a riot without violence? To do so is to whitewash the horror that being human sometimes can become. And the heroic behavior of some is less heroic if we don't properly depict the awfulness in which they act heroically? If someone risks their life to save someone in the midst of a shooting spree, it is deceptive not to show the real awfulness of that shooting spree. Or that bomb. Or that riot. Or that home invasion, etc.

    I think that any level of violence is acceptable if it's warranted by the story's genre, tone, the characters, and teh situation--that crucible--in which we place characters.

    For those who don't like the awful truth, there's always escapist fiction of the sweet sort. That has its place and purpose, too. :)


  11. Here's all I have to say: My mom gave a copy of ILLUMINATED to my grandmother and warned her of some of the content inside. I talked to my grandmother after she read the book and she said, "I didn't want to skip those chapters! I needed to know what happened to those characters!" And then she made some comment about seeing more violence on the nightly news than in my book. LESSON OF THE STORY: If my grandmother can deal with it, then I think anyone can!

  12. Grandmothers are amazing women. You don't look that old, Matt, so your grandmother probably isn't either.

    I have a friend who cannot read ANY book with serious violence in it. Honestly, it's hard for me to understand because I'm a huge murder/mystery/suspense/thriller fan, but she battles a lot of fear, and she just can't do anything, book or film-wise, which presents it in any descriptive form.