Wednesday, October 31, 2007

BJH: Hope in a Doubtful Age

In Reality and the Vision, Calvin Miller wrote an essay titled "Ray Bradbury: Hope in a Doubtful Age." He discussed some of the reasons Bradbury's works appealed to him and had deepened his understanding of "how to get along without the burdensome world at hand." In this same essay, he stated that optimism is "Bradbury's great gift to a despairing culture" (and to Miller personally).

That's an observation that resonated with me. I've always appreciated Bradbury's enthusiasm, his positive portrayals of goodness and hope. Many of his stories are written--or seem to be written--with a childlike faith that allows us to share his excitement and his optimism. There are times when I can almost sense him rubbing his hands together, his eyes sparkling with anticipation as he works.

I find that that's something I look for in my reading choices. In novels and short stories, I seem to gravitate toward the writers who don't leave me feeling hopeless or helpless but instead let me enter a fictive world that's made up of at least a few characters I can like and even cheer for, a world that offers hope instead of total, bleak despair, and a world in which no matter how difficult or challenging life may be, there's more to it than misery.

I'm not talking about obligatory happy endings. No one in today's world can be fooled into believing that "real life" will be free of trials and heartache, so why would we expect the arts, fiction included, to ignore the reality of suffering and sin, wretchedness and hopelessness? On the other hand, I don't believe that it's at all "realistic" to paint life as nothing more than a succession of meaningless disappointments and tragedies. Some would argue that the "literary fiction" of today is altogether void of the optimism of a Bradbury, but I read widely in both, and I'm convinced that you could make the same argument for much of our commercial fiction as well. It's a matter of searching out authors whose work doesn't deal in unmitigated despair, whether you prefer "category," mainstream, or literary.

John Gardner said that "in our pursuit of greater truth we have fallen to the persuasion that the cruellest, ugliest thing we can say is likely to be the truest. Real art has never been fooled by such nonsense: real art has internal checks against it. Real art creates myths a society can live by instead of die by, and clearly our society is in need of such myths." (On Moral Fiction)

That's why, like Calvin Miller, I appreciate writers like Ray Bradbury--writers acclaimed for their genius and their mastery of craft, writers who are thoroughly familiar with the classics as well as the literary achievements of today, writers who continue to reject mediocrity as they create stories that search for morality and spirituality, at the same time offering excellence--and hope.

BJ Hoff is the author of the Mountain Song Legacy, An Emerald Ballad, and An American Anthem.


At 1:08 PM, Blogger Timothy Fish said...

When the children of Israel went into Canaan, Caleb went to Joshua and said, "give me this mountain." He was eighty-five at the time and he was asking for the hardest task. He went through life with the attitude that the best is yet to come. He set his eyes on that mountain and he succeeded in taking that mountain. I don't think he thought it would be easy, but he thought it was possible.

I can appreciate authors wanting to portray life as it is by showing how bad things are or will be, but I much rather see writing that take and attitude of all things are possible with God. In writing fiction, I think that part of our task is to paint a picture of the way we would like for things to be rather than showing our bleak things can be.

I think there are a couple of ways for fiction authors to handle the real problems of the world. We can either suggest that people learn to deal with the problem of the world with no hope of anything better or we can encourage them to consider ways to take action with the expectation that the world will be better because of it. They may not be able to do what our characters can, but when they see a character with an optimistic view of the world then maybe it will inspire them to do the things that they can do with an expectation that it will work.


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