People queried Flannery O’Connor why her books were so dark, why her characters acted out in bizarre and violent ways. The question was often asked and answered.
When Life magazine editorialized about novelists of the 1950s, charging that while living in the most powerful and prosperous country in the world, their published works failed to reflect a “redeeming quality of spiritual purpose.”
The editorial raised the ante, characterizing novels of the day as “hothouse literature” and railing that these writers seemed incapable of capturing “the joy of life itself.” Speaking from her personal standpoint as a Christian, O’Connor responded: “What these editorial writers fail to realize is that the writer who emphasizes spiritual values is very likely to take the darkest view of all of what he sees in this country today.”
In her essay titled The Fiction Writer & His Country (from her incisive book Mystery & Manners), O’Connor maintained that the writer with Christian convictions isn’t focused only about the “country” in which he lives (prosperity notwithstanding) but also about “his true country.” With O’Connor’s gift for plainspokenness, she states: “… a writer can choose what he writes about but he cannot choose what he is able to make live … a living deformed character is acceptable and a dead whole one is not.”
O’Connor’s essay offers keen insight into what she calls the “novelist with Christian concerns.” I think her observations extend to other writers beyond just the novelist. When I began this blog, I chose an O’Connor quote for the top of my page: “The sharper the light of faith, the more glaring are apt to be the distortions the writer sees in the life around him.” As I view my world, my country through the light of my Christian faith, I see more sharply the grotesque, the disturbing and perverse.
Now, under normal circumstances, I’m definitely not a fan of horror. Images plant themselves in my brain. If those images are graphic … violent … demonic … grisly, my subconscious mind involuntarily mulls over the images, something I prefer to avoid.
With that in mind, you’ll understand why I was reluctant to heed my elder son’s advice that I needed to watch The Walking Dead. I’ve had glimpses of Zombie movies from the 1970s and there is simply no appeal for me! As it turns out though, I finally gave in to my son’s urgings. I think I must have watched two entire seasons over a couple weeks to get caught up on the episodes I hadn’t viewed when first they aired. I’m not sure that was the best way for a person with my general attitude toward horror, but I decided I’d rather know the entire story from its outset.
Every episode, I recall reminding myself: if this gets too intense, I can (and will) turn it off. A few episodes, I neared my level of tolerance, but stayed with it. I can’t say I like it, I’m still reserving judgment about the successful series. I suppose the fact I’ve stayed with it proves I’m still intrigued.
I’ve read a number of reviews. (No, I don’t watch the Talking Dead follow-up.) The critiques I’ve read track some of my personal reactions to the series. There have been points where the show dragged, the prison season seemed to bog down and I agree there’s more interest when the main characters are on the road, fighting for their lives. Like many viewers, I’ve purposely chosen to ignore some of the incongruities that occasionally crop up.
I’m slightly amused that some fifty years after O’Connor’s observation about characters (quote above) has to be modified. Today, the living deformed character is as acceptable as when she wrote those words. But the dead whole one is now acceptable … at least as The Walking Dead has constructed these characters.
And perhaps Life magazine (if it were still in publication today) would find the portrayal of non-Zombie characters in The Walking Dead are at least seeking to recapture “the joy of life itself.”
Is this a good thing? I don’t know. I’m still reserving judgment.