By Karen Jurgens
Dystopia. Utopia’s evil twin. A genre in modern literature popular with readers and writers alike. But how do we Christian writers navigate through it?
As I witness its growing popularity, I am drawn to one of its outstanding authors—Ray Bradbury. I have many favorites that I’ve taught from his collection, especially The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury cleverly crafts memorable scenes, partly by comical satire in his sci-fi worlds, and partly by unexpected twists that sneak up from behind—all blended together into permanent fixtures that are unforgettable. Here are a couple of examples.
In The Martian Chronicles, one of the last men alive resides in a Martian ghost town. Like Adam in his utopian Garden of Eden, Walter Gripp is lonely and craves the companionship of a woman—but that’s where the similarity ends. The only woman he can find in the phone book is located at the biggest beauty parlor in New Texas City. After driving like a madman to meet Genevieve Selsor, he is disgusted by her pasty legs and fat body, covered with sticky, gooey chocolate. When she forces him to watch annoying movies and shows him a wedding dress she has bought, he flees to a small town, permanently living alone and never answering the phone. We are left with an image of Genevieve forever calling each name in the phone book, searching the planet for her potential husband. Too funny.
In Fahrenheit 451, however, Bradbury uses character and paradox to communicate the breakdown of society. Guy Montag, the protagonist, is a fireman who meets his teenaged neighbor, Clarisse. Bradbury uses her to contrast what we consider as normal to this current dystopia. Intelligent conversations, taking walks, and reading books are outlawed as abnormal in this world, but Clarisse is the catalyst used to awaken Montag’s soul, as dead and charred as the books he burns.
He sees his wife, Mildred, paradoxically—simultaneously alive and dead—after she tries to commit suicide by overdosing on pills. The snake that pumps her stomach and replaces her blood is as paradoxical as the firemen’s hound—a metal robot with eight legs and a needle in its muzzle that administers a lethal dose of anesthetic to enemies—which later tries to kill Montag.
Bradbury creates an emotionless, thoughtless, world of robot-like humans where Mildred listens to the radio through her ears’ “seashells” and where she wants to spend all her time with her made-up television family projected on three walls, including an interactive script for her to read. Technology is god, eventually discovering and destroying anyone who rebels against it—like Clarisse, who is mowed down by a vehicle as she “illegally” walks down the street. Although Montag secretly reads books he has stolen from burning houses, which he stashes at home in his attic, he cannot persuade Mildred, who is terrified of breaking the law and wants nothing to do with reading books. Her character truly represents the lost human race, brainwashed through fear by a controlling society.
But we are not left in despair. Like Snow White, Montag slowly wakes up from a deep sleep of brainwashing. Mentored by an old English professor, he later escapes to a commune outside the city (before it is destroyed by an ongoing world war) where the people memorize books, preserving their content. Their world may be disintegrating, but the genius of human thought and God’s Word will live on through a handful of enlightened “saviors.”
Travel into these dark, hopeless dystopias are currently popular in books and movies, reflecting our own distressing times. But, as Christian writers, mustn’t we also offer redemption in the end? As Revelation explains, God will change our present world back into a perfect utopia after the Tribulation, where Jesus will forever rule and reign.
Let’s remember that hope and that truth as we write in this genre.
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Writing Prompt: Do you have a favorite dystopian author? Write a paragraph summarizing an unforgettable scene.
Karen Jurgens, a native Cincinnatian, has been a Texan transplant for thirty years and counting. Her contemporary romance novella, A Mosaic Christmas, will be published during Christmas, 2015, and is part of a multi-author anthology, Warm Mulled Kisses.
Since retiring from teaching, she has begun a new career as a blogger and speaker within the context of Christian ministry. Follow her blog about scriptural answers to life’s trials at Touched by Him Ministries at www.karenjurgens.com.
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