I’ll admit it. As a brand-new fiction writer, my head has been filled with a flurry of questions lately. What will people think of Simon (the main character of The Messengers series) when they meet him? What will it be like to hold my novel in my own hands? Will people judge the book by its cover? (I certainly hope so!) But most of the questions I’ve been considering lately are the questions others have for me. Often, those questions surround the genre I keep using to describe the book: dystopian. In case you’ve been asking that too, here’s my attempt to answer a few questions along those lines.
What does dystopian mean?
Unlike utopia, which is often understood to mean a paradise or perfect place, dystopia describes a place where things have gone wrong. Really wrong. In fact, part of the mystery of a dystopian novel is to figure out (1) what is wrong, (2) how it went wrong, and (3) what can be done to fix it. Instead of learning everything all at once, the reader explores with the character the dystopian world of the book and figures out where everything fell apart.
How does dystopian literature sync with a Christian worldview?
Well, let’s look at the Bible. We barely get into the first of sixty-six books when BAM!—something goes wrong. Really wrong. As Christians, we know that we live in a fallen world. We know that evil exists, and we call it what it is. Unlike some notions that a Christian worldview puts on rosy if not naïve glasses to view reality, Christians, the Bible, and God Himself all acknowledge that we live in a fallen, sinful, dystopian world. It was perfect. Now it’s not. What happened? (1) We turn to the Bible to learn of our sin. (2) We learn from the Bible that we tried in the perfect Garden of Eden to take God’s place, to catastrophic ends. (3) Unlike other novels, we see that God has already fixed the problem—through our Savior. And through the Holy Spirit, we live as the Father’s children to help, love, serve, and spread the Word of salvation to others. In my mind, dystopian literature completely makes sense as a believer in this world.
Why is dystopian literature a popular genre with teens?
I don’t really need to list the huge selection of trilogies in which a teenager finds him- or herself in a terrible world. Even when it’s not labeled dystopian, this kind of narrative fills bookshelves, ebook apps, and movie screens. Why do teenagers read it? I can’t speak for teens, but I’d venture to say that it’s because they see it in their lives. Whether in my former classroom or across the aisle at my church—youth are always teaching me. And as I watch them live in this world, I marvel at the courage they have. I could go into recent history or sociological analysis or societal structures, but let’s just admit it: the world is a mess, and the teenagers of this world are owning it—even though they didn’t necessarily create it. I imagine that dystopian literature seems authentic to this savvy group of readers. I wonder if they even turn to the genre for a source of hope. If so, I pray that Simon and the Messengers can give them a hope beyond the fiction world—not because my fiction is better but because it is injected with realities that are going on today and have been going on for ages. Because it offers the truth.
How does Discovered fit with (and vary from) dystopian literature?
I guess I’ve already begun to explain how this book fits with dystopian literature. Simon’s world stinks. He’s not sure why, but he wants to figure it out. The setting can get frustrating and dark at times because there’s no sugarcoating the mess of New Morgan, the country where Simon lives.
But as much as I love dystopian literature, I know that not all readers of Discovered are fans of that genre. So there were some compromises I made in hopes that more people would join in the journey. Especially at the beginning, I eventually strayed from my original pace to acclimate everyone into a plot that might have otherwise plunged right into the darkness—and the Darkness—of the story. I’m hoping my fellow dystopian fans can join with me as we introduce others to the themes we’re familiar with.
Another variance goes back to what I said in my second question of this blog. Without a huge spoiler, I think it’s safe to say that I talk about Jesus at points. And Jesus is the hero of this book, just like He’s the hero of the Bible. That doesn’t mean we can lazily let the world fall apart. Knowing that the victory has already been won, we fight as those who have eternal and certain hope.
Well, there’s a brief summary of a genre, a worldview, and a book. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much I enjoyed sharing. Have more questions? Great! Find me on social media, and let’s keep talking.