A subtle peril of fiction

By , 14 September 2007 7:21 pm

I was at a church elders meeting last night, when I was struck by a totally irrelevant thought: how rarely fiction represents committee meetings. The chief reason of course is not hard to find: they are really pretty boring. (Another reason, incidentally, is that meetings where more than three people are present are very hard to portray; you end up saying, X said this, Y said that, Z commented, and so on.) Fiction, especially the sort that I write, and I suspect most of my readers read, is about action and events. If committee meetings do occur in such works, then we are generally taken straight to some climactic moment of decision: all else is dispatched in a few sentences.

Now thinking about this further, I think this is very misleading in an artistic sense. You see it is in such quiet committee meetings where great decisions are made. The fate of individuals, organisations, and even nations, is decided in slow rounds of often undramatic argument and discussion. It is in these rather low-key exchanges of views that destinies are forged for good or ill. Fiction, because it tends to concentrate on dramatic, emotionally charged events or confrontations, misleads us. The apparently still waters of a big river in fact move far faster than the turbulent bubbling of an alpine stream. In the same way momentous events often happen quietly.

From the Christian point of view there is something very significant here. We prepare ourselves to do the right thing at a great moment of crisis. Here, we say to ourselves, we will not fail! Yet actually what happens is that the pivotal battle is conducted somewhere else, often in a far less dramatic matter. And here, unexpectant and ill-prepared, we fail. We need to be prepared for moments of crisis in life, but we also need to beware of being ambushed by some subtle danger on what we expect to be a quiet stretch. I suspect many souls have been damned in those quiet committee meetings when the chairman has said, with no great fanfare, ‘So then. I take it we are all agreed?’ And unable to resist, a man or woman agrees to something terribly wrong.

Having just written this I have remembered what C. S. Lewis has the demon Screwtape say: “The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” Exactly so.

6 Responses to “A subtle peril of fiction”

  1. dugmad says:

    And worse yet, often those momentous decisions are intentionally masked further from the view of those that are most affected by said decision.

  2. Terry says:

    Chris, I wonder if there’s a place somewhere for a novel based on these ideas. “Long ago, at a committee meeting in a city not so different from yours…” I wonder if there’s a way to do that…

    A.W. Tozer said something similar in reference to Abraham, and how he passed the great test concerning Isaac – that at some point in a person’s life, God will present you with a critical personal choice. How you deal with that choice will set the tone for the rest of your life, and you may never know when you are on the point of the knife.

    A little sobering, for sure, but certainly worth thinking about, at the very least.

    I think you’ve done pretty well at writing an extended committee scene at the beginning of TPOTN. And, as you mentioned, it was a rather pivotal point in the story.

    Looking forward to The Infinite Day, and also to hearing rumors of another book (or three).

    Take care, and God Bless.


  3. Anonymous says:

    Yo i hav an idea…I’m probably not the first but did u ever consider making these books a movie??? I think it would go over pretty well, the plot is quite sound, the characters are likeable and its awesome.


  4. Chris says:

    Hi guys,
    Dugmad and Terry; interesting comments. So interesting that, all being well, I will develop this theme of ‘committee decisions’ next week.

    I’d love to make these a film. My bank manager would love it too. But someone with loads of money needs to bite on it. I’m hoping when Book III comes out someone will grab the film rights. Currently they are still available. Let’s pray shall we?

    Blessings to all


  5. Boaz says:

    A wonderful use of committee meetings is done in C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. Further, in either the author’s note or preface before the main body, he states his rationale for the rest of the book (paraphrased, because I don’t own a copy currently): In old fairy tales, they start with everyday life; the wicked stepmother, the poor craftsmen, royalty powerful and objects of fantasy, and the woods really and truly scary places. So how does that translate to modern life? Committee meetings and politics. In this case, starting with the issue of the sale of a piece of college land.

    Unrelated note: My wife and I have enjoyed the first two volumes (three books) in The Lamb Among the Stars and are eagerly waiting for the conclusion, even if we’ve had the spoiler that there will be a climactic battle between good and evil.

  6. Christian Artists Ministry says:

    This is an interesting subject – almost could open up into a philosophical or psychological debate about the perceptions of fiction vs. reality. I’ve often felt that while people do recognize a difference between fiction and reality, they will make sweeping assumptions that what applies to fiction must surely apply to reality as well, or vice versa. How many of us watch or read something romantic in nature and wish that such a story applied to our lives? Or a sci-fi, fantasy related subject? Look how many people wish to live in such a world, so much so that they do all they can to immerse themselves in the fictional universe? I believe even J.R.R. Tolkien struggled with his story taking on a huge juggernaut of an existence all it’s own. The problem it seems is that people want such an escape from the mundane normality of life that they look for escapism at whatever the cost. But, if the artist builds/allows into his works a strong moral fabric (christian message?) that people will seek to imitate or learn more about, then I believe this is putting our God given talents to good use.

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