I recently finished the City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare (book one of the Mortal Instruments series). The cover, mostly flaunting some dude’s bare chest, nearly scared me away. Thank goodness Jeff Bezos invented the Kindle so that I could read this novel without flaunting nipples in public. Here are my thoughts in response. I base this post on the first book in the series, so I’m going to sound like an idiot if the themes and tone change later on.
No major plot spoilers, for those concerned.
Something like a plot
The plot goes something like this. A teenage girl named Clary discovers that all kinds of mythical creatures (like hipster vampires and werewolves, duh) populate our world. But normal people can’t see them. Oh yeah, and there’s these cops called shadowhunters who kill anyone who steps out of line. But the shadowhunters spend most of their time dismembering demons, creatures from other dimensions who suck the life out of our world. Clary quickly ends up involved with some goth teenage shadowhunters with rippling muscles.
I’ll start by saying that Cassandra Clare writes great descriptions which suck you into her world. I enjoyed the read. The characters are… well, stupid. They make decisions to advance the plot or to add drama, not out of good character development. “Given the options, let’s go without backup into the massively dangerous situation.” The villain also seems to be a blatant rip-off of Lord Voldemort. “I almost died 12 years ago (not really), and hey, let’s kill all the non-humans.” But all kidding aside, great plot. Mostly great writing.
Anyways, I’m not here to write a proper review but to examine the spiritual realities behind this book. City of Bones is very dark. Very, very dark. And it’s not the violence; it’s the fundamentally dark worldview. Everything wears a slight veneer of spirituality: angel-empowered good guys fighting demons. But it’s just a veneer. One of the shadowhunters claims a bitter disbelief in any kind of God. And demons are basically just aliens. The protagonists have little virtue outside of killing demons. No higher power or order exists: only violence.
A few nights ago, I had a dream related to this book. I fought on a team killing demons. At the end of the dream, one of our number got accidentally transformed into a demon and chased me. While running from him, I saw children and tried to hide them or shove them out of the way of his rampage.
See, when we ingest content like City of Bones, it affects us. This dream served as a reminder of the spiritual taint on the series.
For the record, I’m not a Christian who believes that R-rated movies are a sin. I don’t have a problem with fantasy. In fact, many Christians should read the Mortal Instruments series! But they should know what they’re diving into.
The part of my dream that really touched me was trying to save the children. Many children and teenagers read these books, and this kind of thematic darkness (to say nothing of the violence) leaves an imprint. Right now, I’m working on a book in this young adult sci-fi/fantasy genre (think along the lines of Harry Potter or Hunger Games). My book involves a group of teenagers in a small town getting sucked into an interdimensional war. Though it will contain violence and darkness, expect undercurrents of light.
I’m not writing a “Christian” book. Christians often make that mistake: they think that the outside, like the existence of magic, makes a story good or evil. No, in art, we look at the core message. This is why so much Christian writing is just awful: Christian writers put everything on the outside, and the simplistic message doesn’t penetrate us. But when a message sneaks up on you, then it grips you.
Right now, in young adult books, we see a war. Harry Potter changed the face of this genre with its incomparable success, and despite the controversy, at core, that series had a strongly Christian message. Kids who grew up reading those books now have a grid for understanding agape love and the sacrifice of Jesus. However, the Enemy also has been at work with books like the City of Bones and the His Dark Materials series. These kinds of books argue you that it’s heroic to live in a world without a higher power. Throw in Divergent (written by another Christian author), and we’re in the middle of the First World War of fiction. And by the way, these have all been made into movies, broadening their impact.
This war means everything. We live in a society ruled by passion, not reason. Few listen to convicting apologetic arguments to believe in Jesus. But most everyone has seen Star Wars. In our society, the great battles of apologetics don’t take place in the lecture halls but in the movie theatres.
The supernatural realm of demons and angels is the rightful territory of Christians. We are
spiritual beings indwelt by the Holy Ghost. So why don’t we rule spiritual fiction? The roots of fantasy go back to George MacDonald, a 19th century pastor. J.R.R. Tolkien (another Christian!) practically founded the genre with a series loved by Christian and atheist alike. Fantasy is our heritage, and the Enemy has no right to use it to corrupt the minds of children.
That’s why I’m writing my next novel. I have a cannon to fire in this war.