“Lights for us to see by”: Good and Evil in Fiction

 “There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, pg. 82, sec. 309

 “Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men.  It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.”[1]  These words were spoken by Aragorn in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers.  They indicate that good and evil have not changed throughout history—that truth and morality are not subject to one’s individual interpretation and preferences.  There can be no denying that good and evil play a prominent role in speculative fiction.  But why is this the case?  Why the emphasis on light and darkness?  Why, in the fairytale realm, do humble hobbits, wise wizards, and courageous knights do battle with prideful dragons and power-hungry foes?  This essay will attempt to answer those questions through an exploration of the writings of Dean Koontz, Madeleine L’Engle, C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

In their individual and varied ways the authors listed above have ties to Christianity—ties which permeate their writing and inform their understanding of good and evil.  In his book, Tolkien: Man and Myth: A Literary Life, Joseph Pearce notes Augustine’s theological influence on Tolkien in his understanding of evil:  “Evil, as symbolized by darkness, has no value of its own but is only a negation of that which is good, as symbolized by light.”[2]  Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia reads, “Evil is not something, but it is real.  Strictly speaking, evil is the absence or lack of a quality or state that should be present in some entity or situation.”  Evil is not merely the opposite of the good, but the privation of the good—the absence of the good.  The definition continues:

For this reason, though evil is real enough, there is no such thing as pure evil or personified evil.  Evil occurs in entities (in themselves good) or actions (in themselves aimed at real or apparent goods) because of some defect in them.  But not any kind of negation is an evil.  In order to indicate this, evil is described as a form of privation—the lack of something that should be present… Evil is commonly divided into two kinds: bad things that happen (physical evils), and bad things that are done (moral evils).[3]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church adds that evil is “the opposite or absence of good.”[4]  Peter Kreeft, a professor of Philosophy at Boston College, teaches that evil does not come from the Creator, but is a result of sin—of our selfish choices to do wrong, to turn away from God.  He writes:

We naturally tend to picture evil as a thing—a black cloud, or a dangerous storm… But these pictures mislead us. If God is the Creator of all things and evil is a thing, then God is the Creator of evil, and he is to blame for its existence. No, evil is not a thing but a wrong choice, or the damage done by a wrong choice. Evil is no more a positive thing than blindness is. But it is just as real. It is not a thing, but it is not an illusion.[5]

Therefore, God created all things good, and evil is a perversion of the good resulting from sinful choices.  The orcs in Tolkien’s Rings books are an example of this in literature.  These servants of the Dark Lord were not always distorted creatures.  As Frodo tells Sam in The Return of the King:  “The Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot make: not real things of its own. I don’t think it gave life to the orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them…”[6]  In other words, the devil cannot create something out of nothing—only the Creator God can do that—but the devil can twist, mock, and distort created things.

Pearce writes, “Besides the themes of ‘choice, free will, and sacrifice’, another of the central precepts upon which The Lord of the Rings is built is the intrinsic conflict between good and evil.  The spiritual warfare between the forces of dark and light in Tolkien’s world forms the landscape within which the characters exercise their free will and make their sacrifices.  Indeed, it is the knowledge of this conflict, and the responses to it, which give meaning to the sacrifices that the heroes make.”[7]  Pearce cites Colin Gunton, who notes Tolkien’s Christian understanding of evil:

…evil is parasitic upon the good:  it has an awful power, it corrupts and destroys, and yet has no true reality of its own.  So it is with Tolkien’s depiction of evil.  The ring-wraiths represent some of the most horrifying evil agencies in literature.  They are wraiths, only half real, but of a deadly and dreadful power.  Their cries evoke despair—the incapacity to act—and terror in the forces of light.  Their touch brings a dreadful coldness, like the coldness of Dante’s hell.  And yet they are finally insubstantial.  When the ring is melted in the furnaces of Mount Doom, [the ring-wraiths] ‘crackled, withered, and went out’ (p 982).  Similarly, just as the devils of Christian mythology are fallen angels, so all the creatures of the dark Lord are hideous parodies of creatures from the true creation: goblins of elves, trolls of those splendid creatures, the ents, and so on (p.507).  Evil is the corruption of good, monstrous in power yet essentially parasitic.[8]

The Rings books also exemplify the truth that evil cannot be used for a good end.  This is illustrated in the confrontation between Boromir and Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring.  Boromir’s temptation is to use the power of the One Ring—the Ring that is synonymous with sin—against the Dark Lord.  “…For you seem ever to think only of [the Ring’s] power in the hands of the Enemy: of its evil uses not of its good,” Boromir says to Frodo.  “The world is changing, you say.  Minas Tirith will fall, if the Ring lasts.  But why?  Certainly, if the Ring were with the Enemy.  But why, if it were with us?”[9]  Frodo responds:  “Were you not at the Council? … Because we cannot use it, and what is done with it turns to evil.”  But Boromir presses on:  “It is a gift, I say; a gift to the foes of Mordor.  It is mad not to use it, to use the power of the Enemy against him.”[10]

In the end, Boromir comes to realize his folly.  As he sits dying against the base of a tree he confesses his sin to Aragorn, who offers him a kind of absolution:

‘I tried to take the Ring from Frodo,’ [Boromir] said.  ‘I am sorry.  I have paid.’ … ‘Farewell, Aragorn!  Go to Minas Tirith and save my people!  I have failed.’

‘No!’ said Aragorn, taking his hand and kissing his brow.  ‘You have conquered.  Few have gained such a victory.  Be at peace!  Minas Tirith shall not fall!’[11]

Here the reader sees a picture of Reconciliation and Redemption.  The reader learns that turning away from temptation and sin is not a failure, but a victory.  Boromir realizes that evil cannot be used for good purposes and, if he tried to do so, the evil would only corrupt him.

Perhaps the most important insight into the nature of good and evil in the Rings books is this:  God works even evil acts to achieve good ends.  The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien includes the Creation account of Middle Earth.  The myth, Pearce notes, is strikingly similar to the Christian narratives of Creation and the Fall.  Ilúvator (God) creates the angelic beings called the Ainur who join him in singing his Music of Creation.  But one of Ilúvator’s angels, Melkor, desires the earth for his own and weaves a discordant note into the Music.

It is clear that Melkor is cast in the role of Lucifer.  Pearce writes:  “Tolkien explains that the name, Melkor, means ‘He who arises in Might’ – ‘But that name he has forfeited; and the Noldor, who among the Elves suffered most from his malice, will not utter it, and they name him Morgoth, the Dark Enemy of the World.’  Similarly, Lucifer, brightest of all the angels, means ‘Light Bringer’, whereas Satan, like ‘Morgoth’, means ‘Enemy’.”[12]  However, despite Morgoth’s discordant note, Ilúvator proclaims that there is nothing that Melkor could sing into the fabric of the Music that He (Ilúvator) will not turn into something far more beautiful than Morgoth could ever imagine.[13]  In the language of Sacred Scripture:  “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”[14] 

Similarly, the Catechism quotes St. Augustine: “For almighty God…, because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.”[15]  One way in which this plays out in The Lord of the Rings is in the character of Gollum.  Gollum is the embodiment of a figure shriveled by sin.  Standing before the fires of Mount Doom, Frodo hesitates, succumbing to the temptation of the Ring.  But when all seems lost Gollum appears and snatches the Ring in a fit of rage.  Yet, in his blind lust Gollum plunges into the fiery furnace, thereby destroying both himself and the Ring.

According to Pearce, this is Tolkien’s stroke of genius.  Frodo did not ultimately destroy the Ring.  Pearce explains:  “Paradoxically, Gollum serves as the agent of God’s grace—the outside force without which sin cannot be defeated.”[16]  By the grace of God, Gollum’s evil act was turned to a good purpose: the destruction of the One Ring and of the Dark Lord Sauron.  In other words, the providential grace of God brought forth the victory.  This is what Tolkien called the eucatastrophe, or the good catastrophe.  It is the moment when all seems lost in the fairytale—indeed there is a real chance of failure and defeat—but a sudden, unexpected turn brings about the victory.  As Tolkien put it, “…in the ‘eucatastrophe’ we see a brief vision… a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium [the Good News; the Gospel] in the real world.”[17]  Evil will not prevail.  God’s grace and goodness triumph in the end—in the fairytale and in life.

In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series we see another narrative of good and evil played out on the page.  Readers first meet the protagonist, Harry Potter, as an infant, after his parents are murdered by an evil wizard named Voldemort.  Harry grows up as an orphan under the care of his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon Dursley, and alongside his cousin Dudley, the Dursley’s son.  Despite the Dursley’s intention to stamp out any remembrance of Harry’s connection with the magical world, his past catches up with him.  At the age of twelve, Harry receives a letter of acceptance to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

 Harry’s adventures, alongside his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, span the pages of seven books.  Rowling admits that Christianity plays a role in the theme of the Harry Potter series.  “It turns out that Rowling, like her hero, is a Seeker,” wrote Nancy Gibbs in a 2007 article for Time magazine in which she interviewed the author.  Gibbs goes on to quote Rowling:  “No one in my family was a believer.  But I was very drawn to faith, even while doubting… I certainly had this need for something that I wasn’t getting at home, so I was the one who went out looking for religion.”

In each Harry Potter book, the battle of good and evil is apparent.  As in Tolkien’s Rings books, Rowling’s Potter books portray a Dark Lord in search of ultimate power.  After murdering the Potter’s, Voldemort turns on their infant boy, Harry.  But the miraculous happens:  Voldemort is unsuccessful in killing him.  Rather, the evil spell rebounds and nearly kills Voldemort himself.  The Dark Lord vanishes.  “Some say he died,” explains Hagrid in The Sorcerer’s Stone, “Codswallop, in my opinion.  Dunno if he had enough human left in him to die.  Some say he’s still out there, bidin’ his time, like, but I don’ believe it.”[18]

Towards the end of the first book, Harry confronts Voldemort once again.  The Dark Lord has possessed the body of a Hogwarts professor named Quirrell and is bent on finding the Sorcerer’s Stone—a stone known for producing the elixir of life, which will make one immortal.  “I met him when I traveled around the world,” Quirrell explains.  “A foolish young man I was then, full of ridiculous ideas about good and evil.  Lord Voldemort showed me how wrong I was.  There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it…”[19]  This scene illustrates how the Evil One and his followers try to eliminate morality, or at least try to blur the lines—there is no right or wrong; there is only the strong and the weak.

When Harry asks the Gamekeeper, Hagrid, why Voldemort was unable to kill him—why he alone survived with only a lightning bolt scar on his forehead—Hagrid doesn’t have an answer.  He says, “…I dunno what it was, no one does—but somethin’ about you stumped him, all right.”[20]  It is only in the final pages of The Sorcerer’s Stone that the reader gains an important insight into Harry’s survival.  During his second run-in with Voldemort, Harry finds that Quirrell cannot touch him without suffering terrible, blistering pain.  Voldemort fails to kill Harry a second time.  What power could be so great as to bring down the most powerful dark wizard in the world?  Headmaster Dumbledore explains to Harry:

Your mother died to save you.  If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love.  He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark.  Not a scar, no visible sign…to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.  It is in your very skin.  Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason.  It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good.[21]

The answer is love.  A mother’s love for her son; two parents sacrificing their lives for their baby.

If there remains any doubt that Christian themes are woven throughout the Harry Potter books, recall a scene from the seventh and final volume in which Harry finds his parents’ grave.  Inscribed on their tombstone are the words, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  As Gibbs notes, the verse is taken from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, “…in which Paul discusses Jesus’ Resurrection…”[22]  At first, Harry’s reaction is one of “panic”: 

A horrible thought came to him, and with it a kind of panic.  “Isn’t that a Death Eater idea?  Why is that there?”

“It doesn’t mean defeating death in the way the Death Eaters mean it, Harry,” said Hermione, her voice gentle.  “It means…you know…living beyond death.  Living after death.”

Gibbs writes that, according to Rowling, this “Bible verse… is the theme for the entire series.”[23]  In the Christian understanding, death entered the world when Adam and Eve fell.  But it did not end there.  God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, the new Adam, the God-man, born of a woman, to live, suffer, die, and rise for us.  In the Resurrection, God has broken the bonds of death.  The theme is central to the Christian Faith and it is central to the Harry Potter series.

In a 2002 article in The John Hopkins University Press, Emily Griesinger notes the aversion of some readers to the Potter books.  There are some who claim the books—full of witches, wizards, spells, and fantastic creatures—deal with the occult and therefore should be avoided.  But Griesinger notes that Rowling’s use of magic is not to be equated with the occult.  “Reading and discussing Harry Potter need not desensitize children to the occult,” writes Griesinger, “on the contrary, Rowling’s books could call our attention to the battle between good and evil going on all around us, not in fantasy or fairy tales but in the real world.”[24]  She connects Rowling’s work with that of C.S. Lewis, the author of the beloved Chronicles of Narnia:

For Lewis, deep magic is the moral law, the law of fair play, human decency, some deep-seated conviction of right and wrong (Mere Christianity 17-18).  It recalls the Tao, which Lewis discusses at length in The Abolition of Man, “the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false” (29).[25]

This deep magic is played out when Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, lays down his life to save Edmond from the White Witch.  Aslan, like Christ, rises from the dead.  Aslan explains:

It means… that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know.  Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time.  But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.  She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards…[26]

Griesinger’s claim is that this “deeper magic” is exemplified in the willing sacrifice of one life to save another.[27]  Readers have seen this portrayed in many stories.  Think of the wizard Gandalf, for example, laying down his life for the Fellowship in the Mines of Moria, and later returning as Gandalf the White.  Recall how Harry Potter, too, experiences a kind of death and resurrection of his own in the seventh book.

The late Madeleine L’Engle, another Christian writer, wrote about the spiritual battle between good and evil in her book A Wrinkle in Time.  L’Engle found the intersection between science and religion fascinating, finding no void between them.  To her, science did not disprove God, but only served to solidify His existence.  Her views play out in the pages of A Wrinkle in Time.  Margaret Murry (a.k.a. Meg), a girl of middle-school age, and her little brother Charles Wallace are the children of two scientists.  Their father, Mr. Murray, is a physicist, but he has gone missing after doing some “Classified” work for the government.[28]

As it turns out, Mr. Murray has discovered a Tesseract—which allows him to travel across space and time—and is imprisoned on a planet by a disembodied brain called IT in the service of an evil force, The Black Shadow.  Meg, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe are taken on a rescue mission by three angelic beings: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which.  “Unlike many of today’s sci-fi writers L’Engle believes what St. Paul once wrote to the Ephesians, that ‘we are not contending against flesh and blood,’ but rather ‘against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places,’” writes Dr. Kelly Scott Franklin, Associate Professor of English at Hillsdale College.  “This evil being [the Black Shadow] can kill the body, but it can also kill the soul—something Christians recognize as the reality of sin.”[29]

Franklin recalls when Meg must return to save Charles Wallace from IT, Mrs. Who quotes from Scripture:  “God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.”[30]  Like Rowling, L’Engle draws from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, thus revealing the central theme of A Wrinkle in Time.  “…the most profoundly Christian truth offered by L’Engle,” says Franklin, “is that weakness and love can overcome even the most powerful evil.”[31]  Weakness and love—especially love for her little brother—are the weapons which allow Meg to free her brother from the cold clutches of IT.

In the conclusion of his article, Franklin reflects on the final scene of A Wrinkle in Time, when the Murrays and Calvin O’Keefe finally make it back home.  They are standing in the vegetable garden. Franklin writes:

…L’Engle hints at a return to Eden… But for L’Engle, Earth is an Eden under siege, and our story is not yet over. Some planets serve the light, while others lie utterly in the thrall of the shadow. But the Earth remains contested territory. For Madeleine L’Engle, this is where we come in, fighting in the service of light. As one of the angels, quoting the Roman poet Juvenal, tells Meg, ‘Vitam impendere vero. To stake one’s life for the truth. That is what we must do.’[32]

Speaking of a return to Eden, C.S. Lewis also wrote about contested territory in his book Perelandra, the second of his Sci-Fi Ransom Trilogy.  The story follows a Cambridge Philologist, Dr. Elwin Ransom, as he is sent by an angelic being to the planet Perelandra (a.k.a. Venus).  His mission: to stop The Fall from happening on an unfallen planet.  Perelandra is a world of water and floating islands.  It is inhabited by many strange, beautiful creatures and plant life, and by the first man and first woman—the King and Queen of Perelandra.  While readers are not introduced to the man until the end, they encounter the woman—a lady of green skin—throughout the book.

Similar to Adam and Eve, the first man and woman of Perelandra are given a command by God:  Do not stay on the fixed land after nightfall.  Enter Weston, a Physicist from Earth who has been possessed by an evil spirit.  Throughout the novel, Weston tries to convince the green Lady to stay on the fixed land, to disobey the Creator.  “‘And you will teach us Death?” said the Lady to Weston’s shape, where he stood above her.  ‘Yes,’ it said, ‘it is for this that I came here, that you may have Death in abundance.  But you must be very courageous.’”[33]  Yet Christ came that we may have life and have it abundantly.[34]  Weston presses on, trying to convince the green Lady that Maleldil (i.e. God) gave her the command to stay off the fixed land in order that she might break it: “The wrong kind of obeying itself can be a disobeying.”[35] 

Weston’s reasoning seems sound… but not quite:  “He longs—oh, how greatly He longs—to see His creature become fully itself, to stand up in its own reason and its own courage even against Him” (emphasis added).[36]  Lewis’s genius here is his portrayal of the ambiguity of evil.  The arguments of the possessed Weston seem true, but they are ultimately twisted perversions of the truth (recall a similar portrayal of evil in Tolkien’s depiction of orcs).  Indeed, God does long to see His creatures become fully ourselves, fully alive, to use our reason and courage, but not for evil purposes and not “against Him” Who is the Source of all Goodness.

Ransom attempts to breathe truth into the matter, saying to the green Lady: “I think He made one law of that kind in order that there might be obedience.”[37]  He argues that in all the other commands of God, she obeys them not only because they are His will, but because she finds them good.  But in the command to stay off the fixed land at night, she can perceive no such good for herself.  Ransom continues:  “Where can you taste the joy of obeying unless He bids you do something for which His bidding is the only reason?”  God commanded this one thing in order that there might be obedience and that His creatures might taste the “joy of obeying.”

In the end, Ransom realizes that he was sent to Perelandra to stop the evil Weston.  He turns to brute strength, fighting Weston fist to fist, until he ultimately prevails and casts Weston into a fiery sea beneath the layers of the world.[38]  Ransom returns to Earth, a fallen world in which mankind must continue to fight the good fight against the forces of darkness.  Dr. Richard L.W. Clarke summarizes:

The ultimate point of Perelandra, however, is neither metaphysical nor epistemological, but ethical:  it seeks to show that the universe is inherently and entirely good and that what we consider to be “evil” is merely a perverse distortion of this fundamental goodness; that a choice between good and “evil” is one which necessarily confronts all humans; that morality is a matter of conscious intellectual choice which ought, thus, to be made on a rationally informed rather than naive basis; and that though there is freedom of choice, free will and predestination are in the final analysis, paradoxically, one and the same.  Humans, Lewis suggests, inhabit an ultimately purposeful and providential universe in which even that which appears to be evil has a beneficent role to play.[39]

The worldview presented by Lewis is much the same as that offered by Tolkien.  God’s creation is essentially good, evil is a perversion of the good, and though God’s permissive Will does not cause evil (Rather, He allows it, not interfering with mankind’s freewill) He works it for the good.  Perelandra is full of Biblical allusions, from the coffin-like vehicle that Ransom uses to travel through the Cosmos, to Ransom’s rising from the depths of the underworld to the holy mountain.  Throughout it all, the battle of good and evil is clear.

Yet another author in tune with spiritual realities is Dean Koontz.  “Koontz’s keen understanding of human nature, love and hate, good and evil, and the supernatural world makes him one of the wisest and insightful writers of our modern era,” writes Tony Rossi in a review of Koont’z 2014 book, Innocence.  The main character is Addison Goodheart—a young man who lives a solitary life below the streets of the city.  His name exudes his character: a man with a good heart.  Addison learns from an early age that he cannot allow people to look at him, else they turn against him in a fit of horror and rage.  The reader is led to believe Addison is horribly ugly and disfigured—even the exposed skin on his hands might betray him.

In the final turn of the story, however, the reader discovers that Addison is not ugly and disfigured after all—but utterly beautiful.  He, along with a few others in the world, have been born in an unfallen state, unaffected by the sin of Adam and Eve.  Addison meets others of his kind in the man who becomes his foster father, in a young woman named Gwyneth, and in a young, comatose girl.  Later, he and Gwyneth encounter three more children who were born unfallen.  In the background of the telling, Koontz weaves together various details which culminate in the realization of Addison’s true nature.  Readers also discover that all the while a world-killing virus is sweeping the globe.  Addison—whose name means “son of Adam”[40]—and Gwyneth—whose name means “blessed, happy”[41]—are married by a faithful, though imperfect priest.  Clearly they stand to represent a new Adam and Eve, destined to begin the world anew.

Koontz creatively presents a world in which sin and corruption are apparent—murder, rape, betrayal, drug abuse, and pornography—but he also paints a picture of goodness and beauty in the world—music, literature, love, the beauty of creation, physical and spiritual beauty, etc.   Rossi points to Koontz Catholic understanding of love found in Addison’s love for Gwyneth.  Addison reflects: 

Love is absorbing, related to affection but stronger, full of appreciation—and delight in—the other person, marked by a desire always to please and benefit her or him, always to smooth the loved one’s way through the roughness of the days and to do everything possible to make him or her feel profoundly valued.  All of that I had experienced before, and this was all those things but also a new and poignant yearning of my soul toward some excellence that this girl embodied, not just physical beauty, in fact not physical beauty at all, but smoothing more precious that she epitomized, although I couldn’t name it.[42]

Rossi also points to Koontz’s understanding of evil, quoting Gwyneth’s character as she speaks about the antagonist, Ryan Telford.  She explains that behind all of Telford’s motives and desires is power

Having power over others, to tell you what to do, to take what you have, to use you any way they wish, to demean you and break you and make you obey, and finally to rob you of your faith in truth, make you despair that there’s no hope and never was…Everyone talks about justice, but there can be no justice where there is no truth, and there are times when truth is seldom recognized and often despised.[43]

According to Koontz, few people could stand to look at unfallen man because they would feel the full weight of their own sin—which explains why people react so poorly to Addison’s appearance.  It is an interesting premise.  From the very beginning, Addison seems to see the world differently.  His own mother is a drug addict and attempts to kill him during his childhood on multiple occasions.  Still, he shows profound love for his mother where most would feel hatred.  His sense of the world and of life’s beauty is pure.  

Koontz also imaginatively depicts angels and demons throughout the telling.  The demons are represented by ethereal eel-like creatures called the “fogs,” while the angels are presented as bright beings with human forms in hospital-like scrubs—the “clears”.  He presents the idea of possession:  For instance, there is the collection of creepy marionettes created by an insane murderer.  In one scene, Addison’s father teaches him about a corrupted music box; while in another, Addison watches as a fog enters an already depraved man (Note: it is through the man’s depravity and consent to evil that the man allows the demon to enter in—i.e. The man uses his free will to consent to evil).  Elsewhere, the bad guy of the story, Ryan Telford, while not seeming to be possessed, still pursues evil ends of his own accord.

Overall, writers like Dean Koontz present a multilayered view of good and evil.  Richard M. Doerflinger, in his article for America magazine, quotes an essay by Dana Gioia on the Catholic writer.  Gioia says, “[Catholic writers] see humanity struggling in a fallen world.”  Continuing to reference Gioia, Doerflinger adds:

[The Catholic writer combines] a longing for grace with a deep sense of imperfection and sin; while evil exists, the physical world is sacramental, charged with the invisible presence of God; suffering is redemptive, especially when it emulates that of Christ; Catholics “take the long view of things,” looking back to Christ and forward to eternity; they emphasize community, “extending to a mystical sense of continuity between the living and the dead”; and they see a need for “spiritual self-scrutiny and moral examination of conscience.”[44]

Dean Koontz certainly fits this mold.

In the writings of Koontz, L’Engle, Lewis, Rowling, Tolkien, and others, readers find similar—though varied—depictions of good and evil.  It might even be argued that all good fiction centers on the battle of light and darkness.  Perhaps this is because the battle is real, not fiction—that, as Tolkien believed, myths contain reflections of reality and Truth.  If this is so, then our attraction to fiction in which good and evil play out on the page is, in part, the result of our desire to better understand the world.  Joseph Pearce quotes author Stephen R. Lawhead about the nature of fantasy: 

…the best of fantasy offers not an escape away from reality, but an escape to a heightened reality—a world at once more vivid and intense and real, where happiness and sorrow exist in double measure, where good and evil war in epic conflict, where joy is made more potent by the possibility of universal tragedy and defeat.

In the very best fantasy literature, like Lord of the Rings, we escape into an ideal world where ideal heroes and heroines (who are really only parts of our true selves) behave ideally.  The work describes human life as it might be lived, perhaps ought to be lived, against a backdrop, not of all happiness and light, but of crushing difficulty and overwhelming distress.[45]

The proper depiction of good and evil in fiction can act as a reflection of good and evil in life, thus helping readers to make sense of the world, to choose the good, and to fight against evil.  Pearce goes on to quote the late Catholic writer, G.K. Chesterton, “The more truly we can see life as a fairy-tale, the more clearly the tale resolves itself into war with the dragon who is wasting fairyland.”[46]  Stories can be a rallying cry to take up our spiritual swords against the dragons that prowl about the world.  They also remind us of the eucatastrophe, of the truth that a willing sacrifice can break the bonds of death, and of the ultimate and final victory of good over evil.

In A Wrinkle in Time, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which give the children a glimpse of the “Dark Thing”—L’Engle’s artistic depiction of Evil.  Mrs. Whatsit explains that the battle against evil is being fought across the cosmos and many virtuous “fighters” have come from earth.  When Calvin O’Keefe asks about these warriors, wondering who they are, Mrs. Who quotes the beginning of John’s Gospel (Jn 1:5), “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”[47] Young Charles Wallace names Jesus as one of these fighters.  Indeed, Jesus is the preeminent fighter without whom we cannot hope to win, the God-man who is Goodness, Life, and Light itself.  “There were others,” Mrs. Whatsit continues.  “All your great artists.  They’ve been lights for us to see by.”  Arguably, the stories of Koontz, L’Engle, Lewis, Rowling, Tolkien, among many others, have been lights in the darkness—reflections of the True Light of Jesus Christ.  To take a cue from L’Engle… “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”[48]

Disclaimer: This essay first appeared as part of thesis research by the author through DeSales University.

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers (Deluxe Pocket Boxed Set) (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2014), 428.

[2] Joseph Pearce, Tolkien Man and Myth: A Literary Life (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2019), 93.

[3] Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Evil.”

[4] John Paul II, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., (Washington DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2007), s.v. “Evil”, 878.

[5] Peter Kreeft, “The Problem of Evil,” Peter Kreeft: Featured Writing, accessed November 28, 2022, https://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/evil.htm.

[6] J.R.R. Tolkien, Return of the King (Deluxe Pocket Boxed Set) (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2014), 893.

[7] Pearce, Man and Myth, 116.

[8] Pearce, Man and Myth, 117.

[9] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (Deluxe Pocket Boxed Set) (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2014), 389.

[10] Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring, 389.

[11] Tolkien, Two Towers, 404.

[12] Pearce, Man and Myth, 92-93.

[13] Joseph Pearce, The Hidden Meaning of the Lord of the Rings: The Theological Vision in Tolkien’s Fiction, read by Joseph Pearce. (Audible, 2019), Lecture Series (Originally from Catholic Courses Institute), 3 hr., 35 min.

[14] Rom 8:28, The Revised Standard Version Second Catholic Edition translation will be used throughout this paper.

[15] John Paul II, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., (Washington DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2007), pg. 82, sec. 311.

[16] Pearce, The Hidden Meaning, Audible.

[17] Pearce, Man and Myth, 104.

[18] J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (New York: Scholastic Inc., 1999), 57.

[19] Rowling, Sorcerer’s Stone, 291.

[20] Rowling, Sorcerer’s Stone, 57.

[21] Rowling, Sorcerer’s Stone, 299.

[22] Nancy Gibbs, “J.K. Rowling,” Time, December 19, 2007, https://content.time.com/time/specials/2007/personoftheyear/article/0,28804,1690753_1695388_1695436,00.html

[23] Gibbs, “Rowling.”

[24] Emily Griesinger, “Harry Potter and the ‘Deeper Magic’: Narrating Hope in Children’s Literature,” Christianity and Literature 51, no. 3 (2002): 477, http://www.jstor.org/stable/44313128.

[25] Griesinger, “Harry Potter and the ‘Deeper Magic,’” 476.

[26] C.S. Lewis, “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,” in The Chronicles of Narnia (With illustrations by Pauline Baynes), (New York: HarperEntertainment, 2005), 185.

[27] Griesinger, “Harry Potter and the ‘Deeper Magic,’” 466-67.

[28] Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1962), 47.

[29] Kelly Scott Franklin, “Faith and Sci-Fi: The Christian Universe of ‘A Wrinkle in Time,’” The Catholic World Report, March 7, 2018, http://www.catholicworldreport.com/2018/03/07/faith-and-sci-fi-the-christian-universe-of-a-wrinkle-in-time.

[30] Franklin, “Faith and Sci-Fi.”

[31] Franklin, “Faith and Sci-Fi.”

[32] Franklin, “Faith and Sci-Fi.”

[33] C.S. Lewis, Perelandra,First Scribner Trade Paperback Edition (New York: Scribner, 2003), 98.

[34] John 10:10

[35] Lewis, Perelandra, 99.

[36] Lewis, Perelandra, 101.

[37] Lewis, Perelandra, 101.

[38] Lewis, Perelandra, 155-56.

[39] Richard L. W. Clarke, “Paradise Retained: C. S. Lewis on the Nature of Knowledge, Reality, and Morality in Perelandra,” Sehnsucht: The C.S. Lewis Journal 11 (2017): 64, https://www.jstor.org/stable/48579654.

[40] “Addison: Addison Origin and Meaning,” Nameberry, accessed November 2022, https://doi.org/https://nameberry.com/babyname/addison/girl.

[41] “Gwyneth: Gwyneth Origin and Meaning,” Nameberry, accessed November 2022, https://doi.org/https://nameberry.com/babyname/gwyneth.

[42] Tony Rossi, “A Grace of Softness in a Hard World: Reviewing Dean Koontz’s Novel ‘Innocence,’” Patheos: Christopher Closeup, December 12, 2013, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/christophers/2013/12/a-grace-of-softness-in-a-hard-world-reviewing-dean-koontzs-novel-innocence/.

[43] Rossi, “A Grace of Softness.”

[44] Richard M. Doerflinger, “The Catholic Literary Vision of Dean Koontz,” America: The Jesuit Review, October 22, 2018, https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2018/10/22/catholic-literary-vision-dean-koontz.

[45] Pearce, Man and Myth, 146-147.

[46] Pearce, Man and Myth, 181.

[47] L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time, 84-85.

[48] John 1:4

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