A quick note: this article originally appeared on a blog tour for Storyquest Academy. I’m not sure how many people who visit here saw it over there and so I’ve decided to repost it here, slightly revised. I hope you enjoy it!
Sailing on storm-tossed seas
We live in a sea of ideas. They come at us from all sides, in waves, within and without. Some of them encourage and challenge us to be better. Others pander to our baser needs and lead us into depravity and disintegration. In few places is this more evident than in the world of literature. What we read can have a powerful and lasting effect on who we are, and yet, it’s harder and harder to find a book worth reading.
In his article entitled “The Censorship of Fiction,” Bram Stoker wrote, “Fiction is perhaps the most powerful form of teaching available. It can be most potent for good; and if we are to allow it to work for evil we shall surely have to pay in time for the consequent evil effects.”
For this reason, I’ve operated from the beginning in my writing with my version of the Hippocratic Oath for writers. It goes something like this: “A writer must seek the highest good for his readers and above all, do no harm.”
Loving my readers means seeking the best for them. At a minimum, this means the absence of vulgar language or content, what is popularly known as “clean fiction.” Foul and profane language or imagery degrade the mind and trivialize sin. They numb the conscience and make us more like beasts and less like men.
Although many do not see the harm profanity, excessive violence, and salacious writing have on the public, the effects are everywhere for those who choose to look. Crass language and debauched storytelling underscore a lack of concern for what was once called character, integrity, and decorum. Those words have almost vanished from our vernacular, along with the concepts they represent.
“Fiction is perhaps the most powerful form of teaching available. It can be most potent for good; and if we are to allow it to work for evil we shall surely have to pay in time for the consequent evil effects.”
But it still matters what words you read and what images you put into your mind. Life is best and joy is richest when truth and love and goodness and beauty mark our lives. That is why writers have a duty to their readers to tell stories that resonate with truth without compromising the way their stories are told. This does not mean they cannot address difficult themes, only that it must be done in a way such that fresh evil is not itself brought forth in the telling.
Directions to nowhere
Walking into a typical library, or scanning the bestseller list, it is obvious that few writers operate by such principles. We now have whole genres dedicated to licentious behaviors. Even popular books aimed at younger readers, and swimming with five star reviews, contain elements that no one should read, child or adult.
The moral downgrade in fiction should be decried by us all, but it is most dangerous for young people. They are still forming their ideas about the world, and to slip in lies and sham morals is to do them a grave disservice. Society is, in effect, setting them out on the road to life with a faulty map or compass when it gives them the sinful and calls it good. Stories have a way of bypassing the reasoning parts of our minds and speaking directly to the heart. And once we absorb a story in this way as “true”, it is difficult to undo the damage. It’s “locked in”, so to speak.
This is why the world needs good stories now more than ever. Stories need not be mere morality plays that drive home a point, but readers of all ages need stories that lift them with stirring examples of true goodness and beauty. They need stories that offer solid footing in a world that increasingly has no meaning beyond whatever self-gratifying desire champions the moment.
Light on the path
It’s not enough to decry the literary sludge. We need to seek out good stories for ourselves and for our children. We need writers who love their readers through stories that speak truth to their hearts.
“A writer must seek the highest good for his readers and above all, do no harm.”
For the most part the large publishing houses are lost, factories of false narratives and low ideals. The way is dark and the prospects grim. But there are two sources of great books that still exist that I’d like to share with you.
Tried and true
First, there are the classics. Ours is an age sullied with moral compromise, but the world was not always so. Whereas nowadays it is hard to find a popular book with wholesome content, back then it was hard to find one without it. Almost all books written seventy-five to a hundred years or so ago and beyond are worth trying, but some of those which are especially wonderful I’ll mention here, along with links to my reviews of them. It’s likely many readers will have read some or all of them already, but on the off chance there’s one you missed, I hope you’ll give it a read.
- Anne of Green Gables
- Little Women
- Around the World in Eighty Days
- The Complete Fairy Tales of George MacDonald
- The Lord of the Rings
- The Adventures of Robin Hood
The second stream for prospecting gold lies in independently published books. When the floodgates of digital publishing opened in the first decade of the twenty-first century, it lead to a massive influx of new titles from fresh voices. Prospecting for gold is an apt metaphor, though, because the treasures of the independent publishing world can sometimes be hard to find.
I’m not that well-read when it comes to independently published and small press books, but three independent authors I would recommend are Jenelle Schmidt, Savannah Jezowski, and Cela Day, all of whom have written wonderful books. A friend of mine, Deborah O’Carroll, also has a shelf-load of great reviews of books on her site, many of them independently published.
There are also organizations that make it their business to hunt down the best books they can find in both a literary and a moral sense. These include lorehaven.com, familyfiction.com, and Storyquest Academy.
So keep hunting for that treasure. Great books are out there. Here’s hoping you find some on your journey. The stories you read and that your children read are worth searching for, even if you have to sail around until you find safe harbor.